No. 18 Illinois Wins Big Ten Tournament Championship
Nov. 6, 2011
EVANSTON, Ill. - No. 18 Illinois soccer won its second Big Ten Tournament Championship in program history with an overtime victory against No. 11 Penn State, 2-1, on Sunday afternoon. Senior midfielder Julie Ewing connected in the opening minutes, while sophomore midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo scored in overtime to secure the automatic bid to the upcoming NCAA Tournament. In the 93rd minute, DiBernardo controlled a pass from junior midfielder Nicole Denenberg and placed a shot into the lower-left corner of the goal netting to send the Illini away from Northwestern's Lakeside Field undefeated in their previous 11 contests.
"I don't even know what to say about the tenacity and determination of this team," Illinois head coach Janet Rayfield said. "When it went to overtime they suddenly came alive and said `overtime is our time.' We had to keep them from running out on to the field to get it started. This team showed a lot of heart since going 0-2-1 to start the Big Ten season to be here right now. It shows how much this team has grown in the last 12 weeks and this is a great moment for them to enjoy."
Playing into the sustained 15-20 MPH winds during the opening half, the Illini tallied first with an early goal from Ewing at the 5:51 mark, Ewing's fifth goal on the season. Marissa Mykines, the hero from Illinois' overtime victory against Michigan State in the tournament semifinals, dribbled through a group of Penn State defenders to reach the endline with possession. Mykines turned toward net and fired a low pass across the goal-mouth, with Ewing there to re-direct the ball into the lower-right corner of the net.
Maya Hayes, the NCAA goals leader with 27 on the year, earned the first attempt on the net for Penn State in the 33rd minute. Hayes received a pass inside the Illini 18-yard box and turned to fire on-net. Illinois goalkeeper Steph Panozzo, adjusted to the play as it unfolded and grabbed Hayes' line-drive attempt to keep the Nittany Lions off the scoreboard, the first of Panozzo's pair of saves.
Penn State (19-4-0 overall) evened the score with 12 minutes remaining in the first half, as Hayes tallied on a shot into the lower-right corner following passes from Taylor Schram and Christine Nairn.
Playing with the wind at its back in the second half, Illinois held possession for the majority of play but was unable to find its second goal. The Illini earned six shots during the frame, but needed overtime to secure their second Big Ten Tournament Championship, with the first coming in the 2003 season. DiBernardo earned the Naperville, Ill., native's 17th goal of the season at the 92:04 mark after weaving between Penn State defenders to find a shooting lane - placing a strike by the outstretched arms of All-Big Ten goalkeeper Erin McCarthy to end the contest.
"[Today is] a great step forward for Vanessa in terms of mental toughness," Rayfield said. "She is a great player and when you are a great player you are going to get hit a lot. She took a lot of knocks today and kept on going and that is a huge step for her. Getting that goal [in overtime] is going to show Vanessa she can be tough in addition to being technical."
Illinois improved to 10-0-1 in its previous 11 contests, while the Illini remain undefeated in extra time games, with a 4-0-2 mark when contests extend into overtime. Panozzo earned Defensive Player of the Tournament honors, while Mykines was named the tournament's top offensive performer. DiBernardo, Panozzo and Mykines were each selected to the all-tournament team as well.
The Orange and Blue (16-4-2) continue their season with the NCAA Tournament First Round, scheduled for Nov. 11-13. The selection show will be streamed on NCAA.com at 3:30 p.m. CT on Monday, Nov. 7.