Flaws’ 2 goals helps end soccer’s slump with 3-2 win over No. 20 Wisconsin

A recent slump in form led to questions about Illinois soccer’s spot in this year’s race for the Big Ten title. The Illini are slated to host the tournament this year, and with only four points in five conference games, the team looked set to miss the championships billed for November. They temporarily put those worries to rest as they defeated No. 20 Wisconsin 3-2 on Saturday night at Illinois Soccer and Track Stadium.

“Early in games as we started down that slide, we hit the panic button,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “For the majority of this game we played with some composure, we played with some confidence. We didn’t hit that panic button and it made all the difference in the world.”

The Badgers were ranked fourth in the Big Ten with 10 points at the start of the game. They were also undefeated through eight away games this season and regarded as favorites coming into the game. The Badgers lived up to this tag at the start of the game, maintaining the better share of possession and creating more chances than the Illini.

A breakthrough came for Illinois against the run of play in the 36th minute of the first half. Forward Janelle Flaws won the chase to an Illinois ball launched over the Wisconsin defense. In one touch, she controlled the pass and rounded the ball past the on-rushing Wisconsin goalie Genaveve Richards, who helplessly clattered into Flaws. In midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo’s fourth straight game out nursing a bruised knee, the spot fell to sophomore Taylore Peterson, who stepped up to slot home the penalty that resulted from the Flaws-Richards collision.

Wisconsin tried to pull back even almost immediately with a series shots stopped by Illinois, including an Amy Feher clearance off the line. The sophomore defender was a constant thorn in the Badgers’ flesh as she tore up and down the left flank for Illinois, thwarting brilliant moves by Wisconsin while also creating chances for Illinois.

An accurate summary of Feher’s play Saturday came on Illinois’ second goal. She dispossessed a Badgers player of the ball and picked up her eyes downfield to spot Flaws making a run. Feher delivered a chip in behind Wisconsin’s back line from inside the Illinois half, which Flaws ran into and finished to double the Illini advantage.

“Amy Feher tonight was great,” Rayfield said. “Right now everybody’s going to have to play well for us to be successful in games like this, and we had a lot of people play well. A lot of people put their soul and heart into this game and certainly Amy and Taylore Peterson were two of those.”

Illinois was able to see its 2-0 lead through halftime and withstood a barrage of shots by Wisconsin at the start of the second period. Wisconsin finally broke through the Illini defense in the 77th minute and found the back of the net through an Alev Kelter tap-in. The comeback was short-lived, though, as Janelle Flaws scored her second goal of the night and 15th on the season just 17 seconds after Kelter’s. The Badgers would grab another goal in the final minute of the game after a goalmouth scrabble, but the Illini picked up a hard-fought win in the absence of seniors Brown and DiBernardo.

The Illini moved up one spot to ninth in the Big Ten after the weekend’s games. They now sit just one point and one slot outside a qualification spot for the Big Ten Championships.

“We just have to go after it like we did today,” Flaws said. “In the first half, we had people sliding all over the place, blocking shots. Just doing the little things right that ended up keeping the ball out of the back of our net in the first half. We gave up two goals, but we still keep that mentality of getting a foot in anything you can.”

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