Soccer ends non-conference season with two wins

The Illinois soccer team has been looking to put it all together on the field this season. This past weekend, they just might have done it.

Indiana State traveled to Champaign on Friday and was in control for the first half with forward Abby Reed’s goal to put the Sycamores up 1-0 in the 23rd minute. Solid possessions were hard to come by for the Illini, as they barely tested the Indiana State defense.

“(At halftime) we kind of just talked about picking it up,” junior midfielder Allie Osoba said. “We weren’t exactly playing our type of game, our style. Really just the mentality that we want to go into every game with, we didn’t have.”

When the teams came out for the second half, Illinois looked like a different team. The Illini controlled possession and fed several balls into the Sycamores box. Osoba was substituted in after Indiana State made it 1-0 and made an impact off the bench. She tapped in her third goal of the season off a corner kick in the 56th minute to even the tally.

Less than three minutes later, Osoba drew a foul in the box and senior midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo converted the penalty kick. Her fourth goal of the season made it 2-1.

“We needed someone who could try to keep the ball for us,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “And certainly even the foul in the box was (Osoba) holding the ball and making someone foul her to get the ball as opposed to giving it to them.”

Illinois extended its lead with a flying header by junior forward Jannelle Flaws off a Reagan Robishaw cross in the 68th minute. It was Flaws’ eighth goal of the year.

Indiana State would score only once more — in the 85th minute with Reed’s second of the game — but that would be all. Illinois dominated in shots 25-11 and led in corner kicks 7-3.

“I think (in the second half) we just started to play better soccer,” Rayfield said. “Credit to Indiana State. They came out and really put us under pressure and our team didn’t show up really ready to play.”

Rayfield also acknowledged that even though it was a win, the team needed to improve its intensity throughout the entire game against Florida International.

When the team faced the Panthers on Sunday afternoon, Illinois controlled both sides of the field from start to finish. Illinois dominated possession early despite some no-calls that Rayfield and the coaching staff were not pleased with. The defense and Claire Wheatley were barely tested, as the freshman goalkeeper only had to make one save.

Robishaw had the biggest impact early as she scored her first goal this year in the 39th minute with a cutback shot on the left side to take the 1-0 lead. The Illini came out for the second half with even more offensive threats and Robishaw again took advantage. She struck a loose ball, following a shot by Flaws, in the box past goalkeeper Paula Zuluaga. The goal came in the 49th minute to give the Illini the 2-0 lead.

Illinois continued to show its offensive versatility with senior forward Megan Pawloski scoring her second and third goals of the season in the 55th and 76th minutes to make it 4-0. She benefitted from assists from sophomore midfielder Anastasia Medellin, Flaws and DiBernardo.

Pawloski and Robishaw were able to take advantage of not only the offensive efficiency, but also the defensive aggressiveness. Illinois forwards, midfielders and defenders were constantly stepping into the Panthers’ passing lanes. Florida International was under constant pressure and could barely muster any offense as they were outshot 27-7.

Illinois’ offense and defense came together for its first clean sheet of the season and the team’s first since Nov. 11 of last season. The Illini had to earn it though, as they played the most physical game of their season thus far. Sophomore midfielder Aliina Weykamp and DiBernardo both went out in the first half appearing to be shaken up. Both would eventually return but several players from both teams were knocked to the ground as the referee struggled to keep control of the match.

“I think that’s one of those things that you have to learn to play with the game,” Rayfield said. “So certainly (you) can’t get pulled into it psychologically.”

Rayfield and the team were pleased with the match overall as they enter conference play this Friday in Columbus, Ohio, against Ohio State. The Illini expect the competition as a whole, including the physicality, to rise with Big Ten opponents, but for now, they stand 5-2-1 after finishing nonconference play on a high note with the full team performance.

“I told them after the game, ‘This has got to be the standard,’” Rayfield said. “If you’re not going to play on both sides of the ball, then you just won’t play…. We’ve got to be able to play that way on both sides for 90 minutes.”

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