Illini Soccer Team Ready For The Challenge Of The New Millenium
July 27, 2000
Illinois soccer got a taste of the national spotlight last season. It was a year of firsts, the program's first national ranking (15th), first weekend sweep of Big Ten action (defeating Minnesota and Wisconsin), and first Big Ten Tournament victory (Iowa). All of these accomplishments, plus the best record in the program's three-year history gave Illinois reason to watch the NCAA selection show with interest.
With 10 starters back from last year, the Illini seem primed to return to the Top 25 and this time see their name among the 48 teams selected for the NCAA Tournament Nov. 5.
Head Coach Tricia Taliaferro is excited about the future of Illinois soccer describing her team "as maturing consistently into a nationally competitive program." The 1999 season is proof of that.
"Like last year, we're not going to sneak up on people in 2000," said Taliaferro. "At the same time our expectations have increased."
Illinois plays an attacking, aggressive style of soccer with many weapons to choose from. That attack resulted in three goals against five nationally or regionally ranked teams, including Michigan (in the Big Ten Tournament) and Wisconsin (in one half).
"We're always hunting goals and committing numbers to our attack," Taliaferro said.
Emily Brown keys the attack up front. The All-Big Ten performer was second in the Big Ten in scoring with a school-record 18 goals and 40 points. The graduate of New Trier High School was also the school's first All-Big Ten First Team selection.
"We moved Emily Brown from the wing to center of the midfield position last year," explained Taliaferro. "Emily has contributed tremendously in the development of our program. She is an exciting player to watch and her desire to get even better is contagious."
What made Brown so dangerous was the emergence of many other players as added offensive threats. Forward Lisa Baldwin was at the top of that list. Baldwin was a Second-Team All-Big Ten choice who had eight goals and one assist in the '99 season and earned the conference player of the week award after scoring three goals in the first week of the season. Baldwin was at full strength by the end of the spring after a dislocated knee sidelined her for eight games in the second half of the '99 season.
Brown and Baldwin's play early last year helped pave the way for many of the freshman who emerged by season's end. Forward Laura Freeman,who has earned the reputation as a tough-nosed player, emerged as a starter midway through the year. She led the team in assists (7), including a team-leading three game-winning assists.
Freeman continues the momentum of her play in the fall to improve her game. "Laura Freeman had a tremendous spring," noted Taliaferro. "She is dangerous in the box and complements the rest of the players nicely."
The staff also expects big things from freshman Tiffani Walker. The 5-foot-8-inch forward will add speed to the front line. Walker not only holds her high school's record with 60 goals, but also the state of Washington high school record in the 100-meter hurdles.
While the Fighting Illini certainly have the individuals in place to finish the attack, they also have an equally high-quality group of talented players to keep the ball in the attacking third of the field and serve dangerous balls into the box.
Lindsay Johnson emerged as one of the best on the squad at the department a year ago and this year could make a run at All-Big Ten honors. No one was hotter at the end of the season than Johnson, who played on the right side of the midfield. Johnson filled in splendidly during Baldwin's recuperation.
Johnson's biggest asset is her footwork with a great ability to split defenders. Johnson tied Baldwin for second on the team in scoring (6 goals, 5 assists).
"Lindsay Johnson is another player who had a great spring," Taliaferro said, "She likes to go one-on-one to create goal-scoring opportunities."
Tara Schuling likewise earned a starting spot by season's end in '99. Like Freeman, Schuling made an impact as a freshman by being aggressive and playing with confidence. She started seven games and appeared in 23 of the team's 24 contests. She scored her first goal in her first-ever collegiate game.
Hollie Schurr is especially potent at outrunning defenders and feeding the ball from the outside. Schurr had one goal and four assists and started all 19 games she was available.
Two talented newcomers at the midfield will join the trio. Colleen Joyce, a transfer from Montana, and Abby Goodman are expected to make an immediate impact. Joyce brings NCAA experience, having helped the Grizzlies to the post-season by posting eight assists as a starter for the Big Sky Conference champions. Goodman's nickname "Scrappy" comes from her tenacious play and is one of reasons she caught the eye of the Illinois coaching staff.
As imposing as the offense was at times during the '99 season, the most impressive performance arguably came from the defense. The Illini recorded a school-record seven shutouts, including four in a row during the non-conference portion of the schedule.
The Illini's army of defense is again led by the "Little General," Heidi Holtzman. Holtzman is coming off an All-Big Ten (second team) season after once again playing every minute of every game. Holtzman also isn't afraid of stepping into the zone to fire shots, coming close to putting the ball into the net on numerous occasions last year.
"Even at her size she has the ability to punish other teams," Taliaferro said of Holtzman.
Sue Hodson started every game during her freshman year and was especially potent during the Big Ten Tournament, where her unassisted goal in the conference semifinals helped earn her a spot on the all-tournament team.
"We asked Sue Hodson to do a lot in her first year," Taliaferro said. "Her confidence has grown making her more proactive as the season progressed."
Kristen Holman and Rebecca Patrick could help make the Illini one of the top defending teams in the Big Ten in 2000. Patrick was a starter as freshman before her tearing her ACL in the pre-season last year. Holman's play only got stronger at the end of the season.
Assistant coach Missy Price has helped mold a solid corps of goalkeepers. Sarah Heggen returns in goal after starting 12 games and posting four shutouts. Her final blanking gave Illinois its first ever-Big Ten Tournament win--a 2-0 decision over Iowa.
Junior Annemarie Hennes and newcomer Sarah Anderson will also be vying for time in net. Hennes was one of the most improved players during the spring while Anderson posted 34 shutouts in her final two seasons at Maine South.
With the power the Illini have this year, both individually and collectively, they have the tools necessary to continue a climb in the Big Ten, annually one of the top conferences in the country. Last year all three Big Ten teams who made the NCAA Tournament won first round games and one advanced to the Final Four. The year before six Big Ten teams made the Big Dance. Illinois has been competitive in the conference and should be even more so in 2000.
"We have met and in some cases exceeded our goals," said Taliaferro. "Now is the time to raise our expectations and become even more competitive in the Big Ten."
In addition to the 10 returning starters and the 20 returning letterwinners, Taliaferro has brought in an impressive recruiting class, which complements the current class and gives the team the boost it needs in the right areas. Besides the above mentioned names, Jennifer Smith, an all-state player from Tennessee, Maggie Kellett, who helped her team to third place in the Missouri State Tournament, and Kelly Walker, an all-state defender from talent-rich New Trier High School, make up a strong nucleus of newcomers. Taliaferro has been cognizant to recruit players that fit the team concept. "We don't have a superstar," said the coach.
The 2000 Illinois team will be the most veteran of any Illinois squad to date. The Illini return 10 starters from last year's 12-8-2 team.
"We're developing to a point in our program where we expect to accomplish these goals because of what we accomplished last year," said Taliaferro.
The Illini made huge strides in the spring as well. Illinois played both last years' No. 4 Penn State and No. 6 Clemson to 0-0 ties at the Kicks Against Breast Cancer Tournament and won the Illini's seven-on-seven tourney.
"We improved in the fall and the spring both tactically and technically," said Taliaferro. `We're to a point that we expect good results. It hasn't been just one person who has raised her level of play. We're a hungry team who believes they've only begun to leave their mark."
It's that attitude that should make Illinois dangerous in the run for the post-season in the 2000.