Practice yields game results for Illinois soccer

In spite of tallying its first loss of the season over the weekend, No. 22 Illinois showed positive moments when it transferred what it does in practice to the game.

The only goal scored by the Illini this weekend was from a play that started from a throw-in. Interim head coach Jeff Freeman was pleased that the women made the connection.

“I was happy we were able to score on a set piece,” Freeman said. “It’s something we have been working quite a bit on. Kristen Gierman got on the end of the throw-in, and Shayla Mutz crashed right in the box finishing our opportunity.”

The goal was Mutz’s first of the season and Gierman’s first collegiate assist.

Though it was tallied at the beginning of the match, the goal was the only one scored throughout the game against UC Santa Barbara, leading the Illini to their second victory of the season.

*Mutz makes smooth transition*

The new chemistry the Illini have developed this year has allowed the players’ minds to be at ease when transitioning from offense to defense.

Mutz played in the forward position last year but is now playing on the backline because of the four-back formation change this season. Mutz rarely hesitates when an opportunity arises for her to step off the backline and into the attacking part of the field.

“I wasn’t expecting many goals this season playing in the back, but it shows the attacking-mindedness of our team that we were up that far in the box,” Mutz said. “It’s nice knowing that I can go up and not have to worry about it because I know Christina Farrell, Tailor Smith and Kassidy (Brown) are dropping back for me. They give me the confidence to go up.”

*Three freshmen earn starting spots*

The transfer from high school to collegiate soccer usually takes awhile for a freshman player, but this season the Illini have three freshmen who are starting.

“I couldn’t be happier with our freshman class,” Freeman said. “They are talented, they fit into what we do here at Illinois, and they really fit in well with the team. We have a great blend of upperclassmen and underclassmen right now that are pretty exciting to watch.”

Tailor Smith is one of the freshmen in a pressurized defensive position sitting on the four-back line. With the formation change, Smith has brought her defensive prowess and become part of the Illinois adaptation.

Nicole Breece plays on the attacking side of the field and has already tallied her first collegiate goal, scored in the 1-1 tie against Illinois State on Aug. 19. Breece has continued to contribute goal attempts this season. The third starting freshman for the Illini is Taylore Peterson, whose position is center midfielder, where Vanessa DiBernardo can usually be found. Peterson has tallied three shots so far, two of them on goal.

*Hard work pays off for senior Gierman*

Along with the new addition of a freshmen class, senior Kristen

Gierman was named one of the captains for the Illini this season. Gierman didn’t see much time on the field during her freshman or junior years and didn’t see any action in the 2010 season. Stepping into a leadership role this season has been an easy transition for Gierman with the help of fellow upperclassmen.

“I don’t think it’s really any more responsibility besides logistics,” Gierman said. “(It’s about) making sure people are in the right places at the right times. … There are people that will step up in different situations, and I don’t think any responsibility falls too much on Shayla or myself. It’s mostly putting people in places. Otherwise, I definitely rely on my teammates a lot just to make sure that the team does what it needs to succeed.”

_The reporter can be reached at [email protected]_