Illinois soccer looks to overcome slow starts

It took only 46 seconds for the Illinois soccer team to fall behind No. 11 Penn State.

The Illini are hoping to correct their slow start against the Nittany Lions on Sunday — when they allowed three goals in the first 18 minutes — before Illinois hits the road this weekend to take on Indiana and Purdue in its first two Big Ten road games.

“We had 19 shots, we (have to) create something out of that,” head coach Janet Rayfield said after the loss to Penn State. “Certainly, I think, if you take the first 20 minutes away, the stats look pretty even.”

That was the theme of the early first half Sunday. The Illini felt they came out flat with not enough energy compared to the Nittany Lions, who came out looking to avenge their overtime loss to Illinois in last year’s Big Ten championship game.

First home loss of season

Sunday was the Illini’s first home loss of the season, dropping their home record to 4-1-0. This came on the same day as the seventh annual Illinois SoccerFest, which provided free food and inflatable attractions for all who attended, including soccer alumnae.

“It hurts, and we had a lot of (alumnae) out here, so it kind of stings a little bit because you always want to make them proud,” senior forward Niki Read said. “But one part about the Illinois program is they know how much work we do put into it, and they understand that sometimes you can’t come away with the result.”

Read said that true fans understand that losses happen, and the team is going to work hard in practice this week to overcome the loss to Penn State and bring back more wins.

Injuries

The weekend did not come and go without a couple of scares. At one point in the second half, junior midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo went down with a leg injury for a few minutes before walking off the field under her own power. After 11 minutes, she returned to the field and played the rest of the match.

Freshman midfielder Taylore Peterson, who scored the team’s lone goal of the weekend Friday against Ohio State, sustained a leg injury Sunday to her ankle.

Unlike DiBernardo, Peterson did not return to action. Her status is uncertain.

“(Peterson) got stuck in an awkward tackle and did something with her ankle,” Rayfield said. “They’ll evaluate and see, and we’ll see how she is (this week).”

Senior defender Kristen Gierman went in for Peterson and finished the final 22 minutes of the match.

Charlie can be reached at [email protected]