Illini Soccer advances to Big Ten Tournament semifinals

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MADISON, Wisconsin – The No. 5-seeded Fighting Illini Soccer team will advance to the semifinal round of the Big Ten Tournament after defeating the No. 4-seeded Wisconsin Badgers in penalty kicks on Sunday. Wisconsin and Illinois battled windy conditions and played to a 2-2 double overtime draw. The Illini took the win in penalty kicks, 3-0. The Illini will advance to take on No. 1 seed, Penn State, in a 10 a.m. match on Friday, November 2. The semifinal and final rounds of the Big Ten Tournament will be held at Grand Park in Westfield, Indiana.

“I think it was a tough game today,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “The wind was a factor and there were four goals off of four restarts; it was a tight-fought big ten battle. I give a lot of credit to my team, I think we had a lot of chances to score when we were with the wind, we just didn’t get them. For us to come and get that goal in the second half, I think shows how hard this team is fighting for what they want. You also really have to credit our defense in that second half and in the second overtime. When the wind is going against you as hard as it was today, it’s a lot to deal with. A lot of credit to our defense for keeping Wisconsin off the board when they had the wind at their back.”

The Illini started the attack strong in Madison as freshman Makena Silber fired three consecutive shots to start the match. The Orange and Blue continued to pressure the badgers, as seniors Morgan Maroney and Katie Murray fired early shots for Illinois as well. A Badger foul in the 30th minute of the match gave Murray a penalty kick opportunity, which she converted to give Illinois a 1-0 lead. 

The Badgers evened the score just five minutes later, netting a penalty kick of their own. With a 1-1 score, both teams continued to fight throughout the midfield. Illinois added another four shots before the halftime break. The Orange and Blue defense remained strong, holding Wisconsin to  two more shots before the half. UI outshot the Badgers 10-7 in the first half, and junior goalkeeper Jaelyn Cunningham grabbed one save to start the day.

Both teams picked up the momentum to start the second half. The Badgers fired the first shot of the period in the 46th minute, and Murray added one for the Illini just a minute later. Despite a battle on both ends of the field, the Badgers picked up another goal in the 50th minute of the match.

The Illini continued to keep up the pressure, responding with another goal in the 65th minute. The Orange and Blue were awarded a free kick outside of the Badger box thanks to a Wisconsin foul. Murray set things up for the Illini, sending the kick over Wisconsin’s defense to Breslin, who was waiting to put the final touch on the ball past the goalkeeper.

Illinois and Wisconsin continued to fight strong winds throughout the second half, with the Badgers posting three more shots before the end of the match. The Illini defense held tough, however, forcing the game into overtime.

Murray and Illini sophomore Maggie Hillman created scoring opportunities in the first overtime period, but the game headed into another extra frame. The Badgers took their turn in the final ten-minute period, firing three shots at the Illini net. Cunninham grabbed one to add another save to her tally.

At the end of regulation, the Badgers outshot the Illini 20-16, but the Orange and Blue put six of their shots on frame.

Cunningham remained clutch for Illinois in the shootout as she denied all three of Wisconsin’s attempts.  Senior Patricia George got the momentum going for Illinois as she netted the first penalty kick. Freshman Katelynn Buescher added another in Illinois’ second attempt, and sophomore Madi Wolfbauer put the finishing touches on the victory by netting Illinois’ third penalty kick attempt.

“This is a big win for this group of players and I’m excited for them,” Rayfield said. “They’ve got to celebrate that and then get refocused on the next game. We’ll certainly celebrate this win tonight, start to take care of our bodies and then start to focus on our next opponent tomorrow.”

The Orange and Blue will make their 12th appearance in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, and the first since 2012. The Illini have taken five Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal matches into penalty kicks, winning four of the five matchups.

NEXT UP

The Illini will take on No. 1-seed Penn State in the semifinal round of the Big Ten Tournament. Kickoff is set for November 2 at 10 a.m. CT at Grand Park in Westfield, Indiana. The game will air on the Big Ten Network. The winner of Friday’s match will take on the winner of the second semifinal match, No. 6 seeded Nebraska vs. No. 7 seeded Minnesota. The final match is set for 11 a.m. CT and will air on BTN.

FOLLOW THE ILLINI

Fans can keep up with the Fighting Illini Soccer squad on social media for an even more inside look at the program. Follow the team on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

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Author: Admin