Senior goalkeeper Lindsey Carstens returns to anchor an Illini defense that had 11 shutouts in 2006, one shy of the school record.
Aug. 23, 2007
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - With just over a week until the Illinois soccer team opens the regular season, the Illini continue their preparations with a pair of exhibition matches this weekend. The Orange and Blue open the preseason on Friday, hosting Butler at 6 p.m. at the Illinois Soccer and Track Stadium. Illinois rounds out the exhibition season on Sunday with a 2 p.m. home match against Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
After one of the most prolific seasons in Illinois history, the Illini have reloaded and are ready to take to the field for the upcoming season. The 2007 squad features the reigning Big Ten Offensive and Co-Defensive Players of the Year and Freshman of the Year, in addition to a freshman class that has already made its presence known in the first weeks of practice. With nine of 11 starters returning and a sophomore class that was ranked No. 9 in the nation by Soccer Buzz a year ago, the Orange and Blue are geared up for another exciting season. Here is a look at the position-by-position breakdown of this year's team, along with a preview of this season's schedule and outlook.
Who's Back: Masar (Urbana, Ill./Urbana), the defending Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, and Nweke (Virginia Beach, Va./Princess Anne), the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year, will lead a dynamic and diverse group of Illini front-runners. Joining those two are several Illini that fans didn't see much of as goal-scorers in 2006. Jessica Levitt (Naperville, Ill./Central) played well as a forward in the spring season and will make the shift in the fall as well. Christina Sahly (Naperville, Ill./Central) has recovered from a hamstring injury that ended her freshman campaign after just four games and forced her to take a medical redshirt. Charlotte Cooke (Mamaroneck, N.Y./Mamaroneck) returns to the squad after missing the 2006 campaign, and Emily Pickard (Hinsdale, Ill./Central), with her height and long service ability, provides another possible look up front.
Who's Not: The Illini lose Jessica Bayne and Eva Strickland, who finished 1-2 on the career games played list after an incredible four-year career. Bayne was Illinois' third-leading scorer a year ago with seven goals and 16 points, including two game-winning goals. Four of Strickland's five goals were game-winners and she added four assists.
Who's New: Freshmen Jordan Hilbrands (Bexley, Ohio/Columbus School for Girls) and Laura Knutson (Crystal Lake, Ill./South) will jump into the mix up front for the Orange and Blue, bringing completely different styles. Hilbrands, who stands just 5-feet tall, brings a dose of pace and quickness, and Knutson, at 5-10, often powers through the box to score goals.
Who's Back: Illinois returns all but two midfielders from a year ago, with junior Desjarlais (Pewaukee, Wis./Brookfield Central) and sophomore Santacaterina (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) leading the group. Desjarlais has played in 44 matches in just two seasons, with 28 starts, and Santacaterina proved to be one of the best ball-winners in the air in college soccer as a freshman. Senior Shannon McDonnell (Orland Park, Ill./Carl Sandburg) brings additional seasoning and leadership to the Illini mix and Alvis (Cypress, Calif./Los Alamitos) provides another exceptional ball winner in the Illini midfield.
Who's Not: Paula Faherty, who along with Bayne, broke the school record for games played, graduated after providing veteran leadership to a young group of midfielders in 2006. Quinn Reynolds also completed her eligibility in 2006.
Who's New: The Illini continue to add height to their corps of midfielders with a pair of freshmen 5-9 or taller. Krystin Miller (Berkey, Ohio/St. Ursula Academy), at 6-0, can be both a ball-winning presence and a technician on the ball, and 5-9 Cory Steigerwald (Long Grove, Ill./Stevenson) is a tireless worker who will raise the level of play in the Illinois midfield.
Who's Back: The Orange and Blue return the entire back line that finished the 2006 season of Mary Therese McDonnell (Orland Park, Ill./Carl Sandburg), Zurrer (Vancouver, B.C./Cowichan Secondary), Gostisha (West Chester, Ohio/Lakota West) and Garrett (Lake Zurich, Ill./Lake Zurich). That group, plus Levitt and Alvis, who saw time in the back in 2006, combined to allow just 25 goals and posted 12 shutouts on the season, the second-most shutouts in school history. Along with Zurrer, McDonnell, a Soccer Buzz All-Great Lakes Region third team selection in 2006 and Carstens (West Chester, Ohio/Lakota East), who has had two consecutive seasons with a GAA less than one, are sure to anchor an Illini defense that could approach multiple school records. Garrett also will likely see some time at defender among other positions in 2007.
Who's Not: No one.
Who's New: Converted midfielder Weeks (N. Vancouver, B.C./Argyle Secondary) will likely slide into the Illini back line at right back after excelling there for much of the spring season. Freshman Danielle Kot (Brookfield, Wis./Central) is the only other addition to the Illinois defense and she could challenge for playing time thanks to her understanding and leadership ability.
Who's Back: Illinois has the same pair of goalkeepers as in 2006, with senior Carstens and sophomore Alexandra Kapicka (Arlington Heights, Ill./Illinois Math and Science Academy). Carstens continues to approach a variety of school records after an incredible 2006 season in which she posted 11 shutouts and a goals-against average of 0.88, 0.80 in Big Ten play while playing every minute in conference. Carstens played all but 141 minutes between the posts in 2006, but was spelled by Kapicka on the season's first weekend when she received a red card for touching the ball outside the box. Kapicka preserved the Illini's 1-0 victory over South Carolina with 50-plus minutes of work and also played most of the Missouri match.
Who's Not: No one.
Who's New: No one.
Continuing an Illinois tradition of scheduling top opponents from across the country, the Illini will face a pair of teams that reached the 2006 NCAA Tournament in their seven-game non-conference schedule, including a trip to Los Angeles for the UCLA Women's Cup. In that event, the Orange and Blue will face the host Bruins, fresh off a College Cup berth, and Cal State Northridge. San Francisco also will be at the event. The next weekend, Illinois will face Florida, an NCAA Tournament qualifier from a year ago, in a rematch of the 2005 NCAA first-round match that the Illini won, 1-0, in double-overtime. The Orange and Blue also square off against Big 12 foes Missouri and Kansas in the non-conference schedule before venturing into a Big Ten schedule that will likely prove tougher than most. Unlike most years, the Illini will be without a conference travel partner in 2006, meaning they will be each Big Ten opponent's only match in a weekend. After opening the league campaign with a rigorous trip to Ohio State and Penn State, the Illini return home for five-straight matches at Illinois Soccer and Track Stadium. Illinois then wraps up the conference season at Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State before heading to St. Paul, Minn., for the Big Ten Tournament.
Illinois will be tested throughout the 2007 season, first with early-season matches against UCLA and Florida, then with a very tough Big Ten season that includes road matches at Penn State, Ohio State, Purdue and Michigan, where the Illini are a combined 3-18-2. Still, Illinois looks to continue to raise the program's profile on the national stage by chasing both the first Big Ten title and College Cup berth in school history.