Illini Clinch Big Ten Tournament Berth at Minnesota, 3-1
Oct. 31, 2013
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - Illinois mounted a second-half comeback with three goals in less than 10 minutes and clinched a berth into next week's Big Ten Tournament with a 3-1 road victory over Minnesota in the regular season finale at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium. School-record holder Jannelle Flaws netted the equalizer in the 69th minute, while freshman Casey Conine delivered the game-winning goal in the 76th minute off the assist from sophomore Taylore Peterson.
"This team has shown over and over the value of persistence," head coach Janet Rayfield said. "We were getting good opportunities, looks at the goal, and corner kicks, but nothing had fallen. Then we made a defensive mistake and they capitalized. To respond with fight and determination with the pressure of a berth to the Big Ten Tournament on the line - to find a way to break through the stalwart Minnesota defense - that's persistence. I am proud of this team. They have had to fight to get there, so playing in the Big Ten Tournament at home will now mean even more."
With the win, Illinois assured itself of a top-six seed in next week's Big Ten Tournament, which it will host at the Illinois Soccer Stadium from Nov. 6-10. The Illini, who improved to 10-7-2 overall, moved up to fifth place in the conference standings with a record of 5-5-1 (16 points). Ohio State, which will play at No. 8 Michigan on Saturday, sits in sixth with 14 points and is the only team that could pass the Orange and Blue. A loss by the Buckeyes makes Illinois the No. 5 seed, while an OSU win puts UI as the No. 6 seed.
Trailing 1-0 with just over 20 minutes remaining, Flaws took a pass from senior Megan Pawloski at the top of the box, turned and fired a rocket into the top of the goal. The Glenview, Ill., native evened it up at one apiece by beating Minnesota's freshman goalkeeper Tarah Hobbs, the Big Ten's leader in saves. Flaws, who has scored in 13 of 19 games, increased her single-season school record to 20 goals, which is tied for the most in the NCAA in 2013.
In the 76th minute, Peterson dribbled up the right side and served a cross over the Gopher defense, where Conine was in perfect position to knock in the game winner. The Leslie, Mich., native scored her third goal and first career game winner to put the Illini ahead 2-1.
Just over a minute later, senior Kassidy Brown sent a cross into the box that resulted in an own goal when Minnesota's MacKenzie Misel scored for Illinois. The Illini notched the most goals by a Big Ten team against Minnesota, which had only allowed seven goal during conference play.
The Illini defense held their opponent to a season-low five shots for the second game in a row, including just one shot in the second half, which was the Gophers' lone goal in the 54th minute by Haley Helverson. Freshman goalkeeper Claire Wheatley made two saves on the afternoon.
Illinois controlled possession in the scoreless opening half and carried a 7-4 advantage in shots into the break. Flaws, who finished with a game-high eight shots, outshot the Gophers on her own with five shots in the first half, including three on frame. The Illini also held an 8-3 lead in corner kicks and ended the game with a 10-9 edge. Senior Vanessa DiBernardo, who has missed seven games this season due to a knee sprain, returned and took one shot in 12 minutes off the bench.
Rayfield, who notched her 150th win today in her 12th season as Illini head coach, has never missed the Big Ten Tournament and led the Illini to a berth for the 10th time. The tournament was not held during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Illinois has reached the Big Ten Tournament final the past two years, winning its second-ever title in 2011. The Illini's first conference championship came in 2003.
Up Next: Illinois will return home and play in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday, Nov. 6. The Illini will either play at 1:30 p.m. in the No. 4 vs. No. 5 game or at 7:30 p.m. in the No. 3 vs. No. 6 game depending on the result of Saturday's Ohio State-Michigan game.