Soccer still looking for answers following three straight losses

Last week, the Illinois soccer team’s focus was on communication. Over the weekend, there was a noted improvement in communication, but that development, especially with a number of young players, is still a work in progress.

“I think we did better (in communicating),” senior defender Kassidy Brown said. “On Saturday night we talked as a group that we need to even just communicate earlier. I think it’s getting better but there’s definitely (some room) for improvement but I think it’s like a main focal point for us to work on.”

It was not just the anticipatory aspect of the game head coach Janet Rayfield noticed though. Execution on the field was lacking for the Illini in the two matches last weekend.

On Friday, Rayfield acknowledged that the defense did “OK,” but that fatigue did get to some players on Sunday. While the weather on Sunday was also difficult, both players and coaches were loath to blame on the conditions. Combine that with the doubt that Rayfield noticed creeping up on the team and it made for a disappointing weekend for Illinois.

“We struggled to maintain a rhythm,” Rayfield said. “Again, the first 20 minutes (of the Indiana match) I thought our rhythm was good but we got to sustain that and we got to sustain the execution through our fatigue and sustain our confidence.”

Illinois’ confidence notably fluctuated in the match against Indiana. Like multiple times this season, the Illini took a quick lead and started to relax on defense and Indiana capitalized.

“As soon as we scored (the first goal) we took a deep breath,” Brown said. “Maybe we took too big of a deep breath and we get caught on our heels.”

Brown said the defenders didn’t think that Indiana’s Jordan Woolums could score on the header she tied the game with, but she did. From there, Illinois’ confidence seemed to have plummeted and the game was lost.

“As we struggled with that, Indiana sort of found their rhythm and their confidence,” Rayfield said. “And as I said earlier (Sunday) we lost the battle for confidence.”

Flaws remains atop Big Ten in goals 

Junior forward Jannelle Flaws scored her 13th goal of the season against Indiana. With the goal, Flaws is still tied with Penn State’s Maya Hayes for the most goals in the Big Ten through 13 matches.

Flaws has accomplished this due, in part, to her consistently playing all 90 minutes in recent matches. The last time she was subbed out of a match and did not play 90 minutes was back on Sep. 15 against Florida International. It is not often that a forward plays so many minutes in the college game. But the responsibility and even the effect on her body is not what Flaws takes from having this much playing time.

“I think (the coaches) keeping me on for that long has definitely given me confidence (with) my fitness that I am able to play a 90 minute game,” Flaws said. “Just to keep encouraging me to keep doing what I’m doing and find the goal, find the net and just be dangerous on offense.” 

Like many college athletes, Flaws has not gone through the season totally unscathed. After many practices and games, she has to apply ice to her legs to keep them fresh for the next match. But she does not feel it is something to worry too much about.

“My body is obviously a little sore,” Flaws said. “But nothing to hold me back from not pushing forward and keep improving.”

DiBernardo’s absence still hangs over team

On September 27 against Iowa, senior midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo left the game with a knee sprain. For last weekend’s matches, she was a game time decision but sat out both matches. DiBernardo has missed four matches overall this season and now three due to injury.

“(I) certainly feel like she’s making progress,” Rayfield said. “And we’ll see how the week goes, but with Vanessa and the other players who were out this weekend, certainly that’s a medical decision and if they were capable of playing, certainly our medical staff (would have) cleared them to play. 

“We’ll go at it again this week and see how they are and hopefully get those players cleared to play next weekend.”

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