Illinois soccer heads to Sun Devils Classic

The heat is on this weekend as Illinois soccer travels to Tempe, Ariz., for the Sun Devil Classic. The Illini will take on the hosts Arizona State and Arizona in the four-team competition. Illinois enters the weekend looking to improve a 3-1-0 record, but the ultimate goal is development. Part of that improvement includes learning to play in a variety of conditions.

“One of the things you have to learn to do is just compete wherever you are,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “One of the lessons we’ll try to get out of this road trip is to adapt. Adapt to the time difference, adapt to the weather, adapt to whatever things get thrown your way because you never know when things won’t go as scheduled.”

Illinois will start the weekend Friday against Arizona State, which ended its 2012 season with a loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The 2-1-0 Sun Devils are led by sophomore forward Cali Farquharson, whose four goals from five shots on-target comprise two-thirds of the team’s tally this season.

“Any time you’ve got a player that is a great goal scorer, the easiest way to stop them is to stop the way in which they get the ball,” Rayfield said. “We certainly have to defend her in the box but our defense needs to start higher. The point at which they get the ball is easier to stop than a great goal scorer.”

In the second match of the weekend, the Illini will face an undefeated Arizona team sitting at a 3-0-1 record. The lone blemish on the Wildcats’ record came last weekend against Ohio State after a full 90 minutes and two overtime periods ended in a 0-0 tie. Arizona’s firepower comes from midfielder Jaden DeGracie and forward Alexandra Doller. The duo from the Wildcats has three goals and six assists between them this season.

This weekend’s trip to Arizona State will hold special significance for senior defender Christina Farrell, who grew up in Tucson, Ariz. In addition to being the home of the Wildcats, it’s less than two hours from Tempe. While in high school, Farrell was recruited by both Arizona-based programs but chose another Pac-12 team, Oregon. This will be her first time facing either program since leaving for college.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Farrell said. “I’m trying to get my high school team out there to support us. It will be good to go back to Arizona; it has been a couple of years.”

Farrell contributes to its strength at the back, but the biggest advantage Illinois holds over both opponents is its attack. The Illini have scored 17 goals in their first four games of the season, compared with a combined 17 in seven games for both Arizona teams. Coming off a four-goal weekend that earned her Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors, Janelle Flaws believes the amount of space her teammates create for each other is a reason for Illinois’ offensive success.

“As long as we keep playing like this, anybody on our team can keep scoring,” Flaws said. “We got 11 goals last weekend and it came from seven different people. We have so many people and anybody can step up so that’s hard to defend.”

Lanre can be reached at [email protected] or @WriterLanre.