Illini soccer’s freshmen has respect among teammates

This year on the Illinois soccer team, freshmen won’t be doing dirty work. Because of a new system implemented by the upperclassmen, all players are treated as equals. It is no longer only the job of the freshmen to pick up after practices or games. It’s a team job.

“The new senior group has this idea of a class list society and what that entails, no responsibilities are on the freshmen that an upperclassmen wouldn’t do,” senior Niki Read said. “We are a collective team and we want the freshmen to feel like they can come in and as long as they are working just as hard as us, they are part of this team.”

Three freshmen have undoubtedly earned equality by making the starting lineup this season. Nicole Breece, Tailor Smith and Taylore Peterson are three starters, each playing a different position. Breece sits up top in the forward position with Peterson as a defensive midfielder and Smith on the backline.

Already tallying her first collegiate goal, Breece felt nothing but excitement when she tied the game against Illinois State.

“It was really exciting because we were down, so to tie it up was really cool,” Breece said. “For it to be my first collegiate goal was really exciting because I didn’t know when it would come and I was excited that it finally did.”

With the transition from a three-back defensive formation to a four-back this year, Smith was put on the line. She didn’t have much of a transition to make with the formation, playing a four-back previously, but was put in a position she wasn’t recently familiar with.

“I’ve always been more of a defensive player,” Smith said. “I used to play forward a long time ago, but then I moved to a holding center midfielder and that’s what I have been playing for the past few years. Coming into here, (the coaching staff) put me in center back, which I used to play a lot of four or five years ago. It was just a matter of remembering how to do it and getting it back.”

With Jenna Carosio, who played on the backline, now graduated, interim head coach Jeff Freeman felt the three-back was no longer suitable for the current defensive players. Smith was one of the key reasons in Freeman’s decision for the formation change.

“Choosing to change the formation to the four-back somewhat had something to do with Tailor and her ability to play there right away,” Freeman said. “She has been very consistent for us on the backline and is certainly not playing anything like a freshman.”

Peterson’s position won’t create an assortment of goals or attempts on goal, and she won’t be known for making important stops on the backline; however, her job may be one of the most important in the game.

“She has really been someone who can control the tempo of the game,” Freeman said. “Her ability to speed the game up or slow the game down as we need has really been important to us in terms of keeping possession and keeping teams on their heels and unbalanced.”

Though she has played in a midfield position her entire soccer career, the formation change has Peterson adjust her style.

“Usually we play four in the midfield, so it’s a different transition since it’s three,” Peterson said. “All the transitions are different now when we are on defense or attacking.”

With three freshmen in the starting lineup and others with potential on the sidelines, the freshmen have greatly impacted Illinois so far this season. Read said that this is only the beginning and that the class will continue to impact the program for years to come.

“I think we have a great group of freshmen,” Read said. “I think all of them, and that literally means all of them, have the capability to play Division I soccer. They’re all athletic, they’re all smart and are all going to have a great future here at Illinois.”

_Gina can be reached at [email protected] and @muelle30._