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Illinois Soccer qualifies for Big Ten Tournament

The Illini have not won a Big Ten Championship since 2011.

Craig Pessman (fightingillini.com)

Illinois Soccer is heading back to the Big Ten Tournament after a surprisingly successful season for the Illini.

Illinois topped Nebraska in its regular-season finale, 2-1, on Sunday, clinching a spot in the conference’s eight-team tournament in the process. The Illini finished the 2018 campaign 11-7-0, and 6-5-0 in Big Ten play.

After being ranked 12th in preseason polls for the Big Ten, head coach Janet Rayfield saw the surprise coming.

“I’m really happy for this team, especially our juniors and seniors,” Rayfield said. “It was something they said they wanted to change. This isn’t the end. This is what they wanted to get to to start the process.”

The entire bracket for the tournament will not be released until all teams have concluded the regular season on Oct. 24, and the tournament beings Sunday, Oct. 28.

“This is a whole new task for us,” Rayfield said. “We need to adjust.”

Illinois’ regular season was highlighted by five straight victories from late August to early September, starting with an 8-0 win over Northern Illinois on Aug. 26. The Illini won three of their final four matches, including home wins over Purdue and Indiana, to clinch the spot.

Katie Murray leads the Illini with seven goals this season — just one year after Illinois scored 13 total goals in 2017 as a team.

“We changed several things this year,” Rayfield said. “Even our practice time.

“What can we tweak or do to make things better? We tweaked how we gave ownership to our junior and senior class — the locker room, bench, energy. That’s made a difference.

“We’re three overtime losses from having what would have been a phenomenal season. That’s the future of this program.”

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