Soccer falls to Penn St., loses 1st home match this season

It was a Jekyll-and-Hyde type of weekend for the Illinois soccer team.

On Friday, the Illini shut out Ohio State with a 1-0 victory, led by freshman midfielder Taylore Peterson, who tallied the only goal of the match. Steph Panozzo recorded her third shutout of the season in a game that was headlined by rain.

“We always play good soccer throughout the game, but I think in Ohio State we played from the first minute to the last minute,” senior forward Niki Read said. “We had no mental breaks, we played our butts off.”

Head coach Janet Rayfield felt the same way.

“We are certainly excited for the win tonight,” Rayfield said in a press release. “That’s a good Ohio State team, and it’s great to get some wins in the Big Ten. I’m really proud of the way we played soccer. We battled for the ball, and when we possessed it, we made some good decisions.”

Sunday, however, was a different story. In a rematch of last season’s Big Ten championship game, the Illini hosted No. 11 Penn State. It took the Nittany Lions only 46 seconds before they found the back of the net, forcing the Orange and Blue to play from behind right off the bat.

After that, the Nittany Lions kept up the pace and took a commanding lead. The Illini went into halftime trailing 3-0, and Penn State added another goal late in the second half to win the match 4-0. It was the first home loss of the season for them.

The Illini often had trouble connecting on passes and finishing the opportunities that they had on offense. In addition, the speed of the Nittany Lion’s front line allowed them to get behind the Illini defense, giving them several solid scoring chances.

“We were two different teams this weekend, and the team on Friday could beat a lot of teams,” Rayfield said. “The team that played today certainly wasn’t at the level that (it) needed to beat Penn State. They came out on fire, and we came out a little flat.”

One positive for the Illini was that the defense adjusted and held down the Penn State offense after allowing three goals within the first 30 minutes of the match. Senior midfielder Nicole Denenberg called it a matter of changing their mentality and playing harder than the way they played at the start of the game.

The story was not the same for the offense, which went scoreless for the fourth time this season.

“It’s harder to get in behind when they’re so fast,” Read said. “I think our chances were good — they had some good saves, and sometimes it just goes over the bar.”

Illinois insisted that it is not concerned, though. Last year, the Illini got off to a slow start at the beginning of Big Ten play, but they bounced back and won the conference championship.

“Hopefully we’ll take from this a good lesson,” Read said. “This week at practice, I know we’re going to work hard, and this is going to be in the back of our head, so we’ll be ready for that.”

Charlie can be reached at [email protected]