Illini top Charleston 6-2 in home opener

Mother Nature isn’t the only thing that’s been on a hot streak lately. In a 6-2 victory, six different Illini scored to beat the College of Charleston on a sweltering Friday night and 20 players saw the field, in part because of the heat.

There was a substantial total shot disparity as Illinois had 33 to Charleston’s 5.

“Certainly I think the offensive versatility of this team is one of our strengths,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “We’ve always said we can score from anywhere and it can be anybody. I think tonight our commitment to get numbers in the box certainly helped that.”

Illinois controlled possession from the start and flooded the box with numbers for all 90 minutes. Freshman midfielder Allison Stucky started the scoring shortly after being subbed in on with a mishandled ball in front of goal. Charleston goalkeeper Eli Sarasola could not maintain control of the cross and Stucky tapped it in in the 29th minute. Her goal was the only one of the first half.

Starting the second half, junior midfielder Allie Osoba scored in the 47th minute off a cross from senior defender Christina Farrell. Six minutes later, sophomore forward Nicole Breece blasted another one in from the top of the box to make the score 3-0.

Charleston answered nearly four minutes later with a goal scored by forward Victoria Finchman to put her team on the board. Freshman defender Casey Conine responded right back with her second goal of the year to make the score 4-1 after 60 minutes. But the Illinois defense would concede again as Charleston forward McCallie Jones got off a shot in the box to make it 4-2 in the 75th minute.

Illinois would keep the heat on as sophomore Megan Green scored off a cross in the 82nd minute and junior forward Jannelle Flaws scored the sixth goal from the top of the box in the 88th minute.

Defensively, Illinois did improve by allowing just two goals as opposed to four in each of the previous games. The team aimed to show improvement by getting back to the basics.

“We kind of just focused on being more defensively disciplined,” Osoba said. “Kind of having a pride in our defense, getting to the ball before they can and just kind of sticking it to them.” 

While improved, the defensive still allowed a 2-5 goal-to-shot ratio, marking a high efficiency for Charleston’s shot takers.

“That’s the conversion rate I’m more concerned about than ours,” Rayfield said. “If we score two out of every ten shots, we’re going to win a lot of games, but we can’t give up at the rate of two out of five shots.” 

It’s not just the four defenders but also the entire team’s defensive play that remains a work in progress. Illinois will continue to emphasize that in practice, especially with an opponent like Illinois State set to visit them on Sunday.

“I think (we can improve) our confidence,” Conine said. “And our being competitive and not willing to give any team anything.”

Illinois will play Illinois State on Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Illinois Soccer Stadium. 

Alex can be reached at [email protected] and @AlexOrtiz2334.