Soccer to face Big Ten’s newest addition in road finale

The Illinois soccer team will face unfamiliar competition Sunday.

The Illini (12-4-1, 5-2-1 Big Ten) travel to Lincoln, Neb., to play the Nebraska Cornhuskers (6-8-1, 3-5-0) for their final regular season road game.

The Orange and Blue last played Nebraska in the 2005 regular season, with Illinois winning at home 1-0. The teams first met in 2004 during the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 in Champaign, a game the Illini won 2-1. These two wins make Illinois the only team in the Big Ten to claim more than one victory over Nebraska, which is now a member of the conference.

Senior Marissa Mykines is looking forward to playing the Big Ten’s newest addition.

“I’m excited to play them because it is different,” Mykines said. “You don’t know them and it is kind of back to club when you haven’t played people or go tournaments and you get to see new teams and new players, so that should be fun. There is really no expectation, you’re not expecting anything so you just go out and play.”

Nebraska is currently led by junior Morgan Marlborough, who has scored 18 of the Cornhuskers’ 38 goals this season. Of those 18 goals, five were game-winners. Though Nebraska has a strong attacking team, senior Julie Ewing believes the Illini will handle them just like any other offensively minded team in the Big Ten.

“We depend on our team defense and try to keep it away from those types of players, keep it as far up to our end of the field as we can, and make less work for our backs by defending higher up the field,” Ewing said.

Nebraska’s starting goalkeeper, sophomore Emma Stevens, is in the middle of her first season as the full-time goalie. Stevens has tallied two shutouts and 69 saves in 1,381 minutes of play.

Illinois head coach Janet Rayfield believes that this far in the season, any first-time starter has likely become adjusted.

“You could say the same things about Steph (Panozzo)in terms of starting, and I don’t think that makes it any easier, especially not this time of year,” Rayfield said. “At this point, freshmen aren’t freshmen anymore, people that have stepped in and played all season long are no longer inexperienced. These are two experienced teams that are going to go at it.”

Like Illinois, Nebraska has outshot most opponents. Both previous competitions in 2004 and 2005 against Nebraska were close games, and Rayfield expects nothing less this weekend.

“The same coach has been there for a long time, so I don’t know that there will be huge style differences from the last time we played them, but every year is different,” Rayfield said. “They are going to be a fast-paced attacking team, which is why they have games like 5-4 against Penn State. Like every Big Ten game, they have got their strengths and we are going to have to be ready for those. We have our strengths and we are going to have to try to use those to try and break them down.

“It’s going to be a Big Ten showdown no matter which ways it goes.”