Soccer standout DiBernardo makes her presence known against Iowa

Having only a few days back in the U.S. didn’t stop junior “Vanessa DiBernardo”: from making her presence known in the Big Ten.

Stepping out onto her home turf against Iowa, DiBernardo scored her first goal of the 2012 season before the 5-minute mark Sunday. The Illini tallied their most shots in a game all season with 28.

DiBernardo set a new home record in the process, taking 11 out of 28 team shots during the game. She broke her previous mark of 10, which was set against Toledo last season.

Illinois ran a fast-paced offense, using one-touch passes to create goal-scoring opportunities. This isn’t something that was planned, but proved to be beneficial for the Illini.

“I think it depends on the moment in the game,” DiBernardo said. “We want to speed up the attack when we have a good opportunity at a goal. We just want to keep the ball, and, if it requires us to play some one-touch passes, we will.”

*Freshman stands out in Big Ten opener*

Freshman Nicole Breece, who has quickly found her place in the Illinois soccer program, scored the “game-winning goal Sunday.”:

In the 23rd minute, Iowa junior Alex Melin tied up the score 1-1 on a well-placed header above Illinois goalkeeper Steph Panozzo. Breece immediately retaliated, splitting a pair of Iowa players on the attack. But the defenders then tripped her from behind, resulting in an Illini penalty kick.

A well-placed shot was saved by diving freshman goalkeeper Meg Goodson. Though Illinois missed this opportunity, Breece didn’t let up the pressure. Only one minute later, waiting inside the penalty box, she connected with junior Megan Pawloski’s flip throw-in to give the Illini the lead.

Breece is currently the leading scorer for Illinois with two goals.

“It was the first real time for me to see that young freshman play,” Rayfield said. “What I thought coming off the field today was, ‘This is going to be a fun one to watch over four years.’ That’s a player, I think as we move forward, she’s going to continue to get better and better.”

*Key factors return for first conference win*

Rayfield and DiBernardo arrived back from Japan last Monday afternoon after winning the under-20 Women’s World Cup. The two left multiple times during the offseason to compete with the U.S. national team before leaving for competition early August. Though they were missed at the beginning of the season, the pair returned to Illinois just in time for Big Ten season.

Breece had never played with DiBernardo in a regular season matchup but made an obvious connection with her on the field.

“We missed them, but they did awesome out in Japan. To have them back is a really good feeling and it’s like they never missed a beat,” she said.

Illinois had a similar start to its conference season last year, playing the opener against an undefeated Iowa team. Last season, the Illini only managed a 2-2 tie, but came out on top this year.

“It’s certainly great to be back,” Rayfield said. “What a great day to be at home in front of the Illini fans and pull off a Big Ten win. It’s a good day to start the welcome home.”

_Gina can be reached at [email protected] and @meuelle30._