Illini soccer looking forward to coach, junior midfielder return

A week with no matches could be just what the doctor ordered for the Illinois soccer team.

After an unfavorable trip to Winston-Salem, N.C., over the weekend that resulted in two losses, the Illini are looking forward to moving on with the start of conference play Sunday against Iowa.

The Illini lost to No. 11 Virginia Tech on Friday and No. 17 Wake Forest on Sunday, changing their record to 3-3-1 on the season. Both were 1-0 losses that left a “bad taste in the mouths of the Illini.

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“The results don’t really paint the whole picture with this past weekend, I think we really got better as a team,” interim head coach Jeff Freeman said. “It was a challenging weekend for us, we’re certainly going to get back to things and start to prepare for the Big Ten and a very good Iowa team.”

*Rayfield returns*

Freeman, normally an assistant, has been acting as head coach for the Illini while head coach Janet Rayfield spent time in Japan coaching the U.S. in the under-20 Women’s World Cup.

Going into his last weekend as interim head coach, Freeman was pleased with the results to that point but left a little upset after the two tough matchups.

“It was an honor in terms of Janet being comfortable with stepping away and leave myself and the rest of our staff in charge to hold down the fort,” Freeman said. “It was a fantastic experience, one that I’m definitely better for and one that I think our team is better for, too.”

Rayfield felt her experience in Japan was special as well.

“To be an assistant on our U-20 national team at a world event and to coach one of your athletes with you in that experience, and then to top it off by winning a world championship (is) certainly a tremendous experience,” Rayfield said at Illinois’ football press conference Monday.

Illini players feltwith Rayfield gone things were not that different. Senior goalkeeper Steph Panozzo said Freeman and Rayfield have similar philosophies, and practices and game plans never changed.

*DiBernardo gives team an added boost*

Junior Vanessa DiBernardo is also coming back for the Illini after winning the under-20 Women’s World Cup title against Germany on Saturday with Rayfield. The team is excited for her return and feels that being at full strength will allow them to achieve better results.

“I think our program could be top five with what we have now, but obviously when Vanessa comes back it’s going to be really awesome,” senior forward Niki Read said. “Obviously she’s going to put points up, she’s going to drag defenders around, so hopefully when she comes back, she can bring that positive energy that she has in Japan over here.”

DiBernardo started in all six matches in the tournament and was one of five members of the team to record a goal. Rayfield praised her performance, saying the midfield play was one of the things that was best on the team and calling DiBernardo an integral part of that.

_Charlie Maniates can be reached at [email protected]_