Illinois soccer splits weekend to move up in conference standings

Illinois welcomed Iowa and Nebraska to the Illinois Soccer and Track Stadium this weekend. A win over the Hawkeyes on Friday and a loss to the Cornhuskers on Sunday placed the Illini at 6-3-2 on the season with a win, tie and loss in Big Ten play.

“I’m disappointed in the mental lapses,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “We relax when we’re back in the game and you just can’t do that in the Big Ten. We just have to have a better mental and psychological fitness through these games to pull out a tight game like this.”

Friday night was a close battle between the Illini and the Hawkeyes. The overwhelmingly physical play had an array of reckless and mistimed challenges that led to serious injuries for both teams.

Illinois had seniors Vanessa DiBernardo and Christina Farrell go down within minutes of each other in the first half. Neither starter would return to the pitch during that game. Freshman midfielder Hope D’Addario was one of the subs brought on in the aftermath of Farrell’s injury, but she suffered the same fate.

The injuries marred what was otherwise a spirited display by both sides. The game showcased a 40-yard goal lobbed over the keeper and a flip throw for an assist. Senior forward Janelle Flaws spotted the Hawkeyes goalie off her line in the seventh minute and dropped a picture perfect chip from more than 40 yards out over the outstretched arms of an embarrassed goalkeeper.

In the 53rd minute the score was tied 1-1 when Megan Pawloski stepped up to take her fourth flip throw of the game. The dead ball restart found its way into the 6-yard box right in front of the Hawkeyes goal and Allie Osoba stepped into its path to claim the game-winning goal.

Farrell sat out the second half of the Iowa game because of the hip pointer she picked up but returned to the side against the Cornhuskers. DiBernardo was unavailable for the Nebraska game with a knee sprain and the team is listing her current status as day-to-day. The biggest loss is Hope D’Addario, whose season is most likely done because of a collar bone injury.

“We are a very deep team this year,” Farrell said. “One of our goals is to be a versatile offensive team. Obviously Vanessa and Hope are great players and we miss them, but we have people to step in and give it a shot. Who knows? Maybe we’ll find a secret weapon there.”

After a battle predicated on physicality, the Cornhuskers proved to be schematically challenging for the Illini. Nebraska’s disciplined style of play made it difficult for Illinois to break through the defensive line and get chances on goal. After an early goal, the Cornhuskers distorted Illinois’ possession-oriented style by getting as many bodies as possible between the ball and their own goal. They were able to maintain the lead until the half and they doubled their advantage just 26 seconds into the second period.

The Illini made a swift comeback that was marked by a one-and-a-half minute double salvo from Janelle Flaws. After numerous attempts to walk the ball through the midfield to the Nebraska defense, a change in Illinois’ attacking strategy was the key to the comeback. In the 52nd minute, a through ball by Taylore Peterson over the top of the Cornhusker defense was collected and finished by Flaws. A minute and 27 seconds later an identical ball from Casey Conine put Flaws through on goal for her second.

The comeback was short-lived, as Mayme Conroy found some space in the Illinois box in the 61st minute. Her header past Claire Wheatley was her second goal of the game and proved to be the game winner.

“They were just a really hard-working team,” Flaws said. “They came here ready to play and played all 90 minutes. I think our communication just wasn’t the best today.”

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