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    Soccer Kicks Into Gear With First Week of Practice
    Defender Mary Therese McDonnell is one of six seniors returning to lead the Illini in their 2007 campaign.

    Defender Mary Therese McDonnell is one of six seniors returning to lead the Illini in their 2007 campaign.

    Aug. 16, 2007

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The University of Illinois women's soccer team kicked off its first week of practice Monday in preparation for the 2007 season. The Illini open the season with an exhibition match against Butler on Friday, Aug. 24, and will continue their rigorous practice schedule over the next week leading up to the match.

    After team meetings throughout the first day, the squad began with the fitness test on Tuesday morning before the Illini took the field for their first scrimmage. With three full days of practice complete, coach Janet Rayfield believes this is one of the most physically fit teams she has coached.

    "They came in prepared and they came in willing to work, and if we can put those two things together, then I think it bodes well for what we can expect when the season opens," Rayfield said.

    The freshman class wasted no time making a splash, as all five newcomers passed the fitness test on the first try for the first time in Illini history.

    "[The freshmen] have come to make a statement and say `We're not going to come here and watch. We're going to come here and challenge and be competitive,'" Rayfield said. "We've seen a culture here where the freshmen have said `We're going to battle' and the seniors have said `Bring it on,' and that's the kind of culture you want."

    Freshman midfielder/defender Danielle Kot was very relieved when all of her classmates passed the fitness test.

    "I was excited," Kot said. "It was a long summer (of preparation). After coming back from the summer, it was nice to see that everyone had worked just as hard as I had."

    Along with that intensity, freshman midfielder Krystin Miller says the team chemistry necessary for a successful season is already forming among the Illini squad.

    "The season hasn't even started and we're like sisters already," Miller said.

    For the returning players, there is a sense of excitement about finally putting on the Orange and Blue again to take the field. With nine returning starters from the 2006 squad that made the NCAA round of 16, expectations are high.

    "With a lot returning players, we definitely have high expectations," senior defender Mary Therese McDonnell said. "We have our goals set and we're determined to reach them."

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