Sophomore forward Chichi Nweke led the Illini to a 1-0 win over Minnesota with her second goal of the season.
Oct. 5, 2007
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Sophomore forward Chichi Nweke's first-half goal, coupled with a stingy Illini defense, led the Illinois soccer team to a 1-0 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers in front of 507 fans on Friday at the Illinois Soccer and Track Stadium. Nweke notched her second goal of the season on a breakaway at 6:09 as the Illini (6-4, 1-2 Big Ten) picked up their first Big Ten win of the season.
"We needed a win and we needed it for our confidence," Rayfield said. "We've been playing well and we continued to play well tonight to get a lot of chances. We had chances to put this game away, but for our defense to hold solid and keep the shutout, you've got to give your team credit when you gut out a Big Ten win."
Illinois dominated both sides of the ball against Minnesota (6-4-1, 2-1) throughout the match, out-cornering the Gophers, 14-5. The Orange and Blue constantly peppered shots at the Gopher defense as well, out-shooting them 27-7. Senior forward Ella Masar and freshman defender Danielle Kot led the Illini with five shots apiece as the Orange and Blue kept Minnesota goalkeeper Chelsey Turner busy with 10 saves.
The Illini took an early lead in the seventh minute when junior forward Jessica Levitt picked up a loose ball in the midfield and passed it ahead to Nweke. Nweke drove the ball down the center of the field between the Gopher defense before firing a shot inside the six-yard box to give the Orange and Blue a 1-0 lead.
"I think you're going to start to see [Nweke's] season start to ramp," Rayfield said. "She's feeling more comfortable and she's feeling fitter. I think she's got her game legs now and is starting to play with the confidence that we saw her come in with last year."
Illinois continued its suffocating defense in the second half, while the offense continued to collect corner kicks and fire shots on the Gopher defense. Although Rayfield was happy with the scoring opportunities the Illini created in the game, she knows her team needs to turn more of those opportunities into goals.
"I think we're creating different chances for us," Rayfield said. "But we've got to finish in our re-starts. As many free kicks and corner kicks as we had, we've got to maybe start to do some things differently. We just have to look at the opportunities we're getting and do a little bit better job finishing those."
Illini goalkeeper Lindsey Carstens was credited with two saves en route to her fourth shutout of the season, the team's fifth. Carstens, with 21 career shutouts, is now three shy of the career shutout record set by current Illini assistant coach Leisha Alcia, who collected 24 during her career.
"I thought collectively we did a good job against a team that's kind of hard to defend," Rayfield said. "It's easier to defend when you know you have someone in the back behind you that can help you keep the ball out of the net. A couple of their kicks out of the corner were scary and dangerous, but [Carstens] got a hand on them. I thought [Carstens] clearing those with her feet tonight was a huge part of [our collective defense]. We were able to play the ball back to her and have her get it out."
The Illini round out the weekend on Sunday at 1 p.m. against the Iowa Hawkeyes at the Illinois Soccer and Track Stadium. Admission is $1 for all girl scouts who pre-registered and free for anyone who shows their ticket stub from the Illinois vs. Wisconsin football game. For anyone interested in joining the Upper 90 Club, there will be a meeting held at prior to Sunday's match at 11 a.m.