As night fell and the stiff south wind persisted over Demirjian Park on Thursday night, the Illini hosted Iowa for the second time this spring. However, this one being the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, was win or go home, and unfortunately for the Illini, they chose the latter.
The first 10 minutes were decent enough from an Illini perspective. They put some pressure on Hawkeye goalkeeper Macy Enneking, but she was up to the challenge, saving everything that came her way including a pretty wicked low shot from Eileen Murphy.
As the half wore on, Iowa took control, creating dangerous opportunity after dangerous opportunity. The biggest came from Hawkeye forward Skylar Alward in the 14th minute who put a half volley from about 8 yards out off the crossbar. Illinois managed to dodge all those bullets somehow to keep the score level at 0 at the half.
But Iowa only needed three minutes in the second half to cash in. In the 48th, a hospital ball from Aleah Treiterer led to a giveaway from Murphy. After some lovely interplay, Josie Durr found herself wide open from about the penalty spot, and she put her shot into the top corner to give Iowa the 1-0 lead.
Illinois needed just five minutes to respond, though. In the 53rd minute, some lovely work from Makenna Silber down the right wing led to a cross that pinballed around until it found the feet of Kennedy Berschel. After a touch, she placed an equalizer into the top corner.
The last golden opportunity for the Illini in regulation came in the 83rd minute. Two lovely touches from Zoey Kollhoff and Silber sprung Kendra Pasquale in behind the Hawkeye defense. However, her shot from about 6 yards out was parried away magnificently by Enneking.
Despite some pressure from Iowa in the final two minutes, the teams ended regulation tied at 1 apiece. Illinois had an incredible chance as Silber had a breakaway behind the Iowa backline, but her shot wasn’t struck well and turned into catching practice.
Iowa cashed in on its one and only overtime chance a little over a minute later. A cross into the box was poorly cleared despite no pressure from Iowa, and Meike Ingles beat an offsides trap to get in behind and blast a shot past Sami Sample into the upper right corner, giving Iowa the win and ending Illinois’ season.
A couple things:
- You might be asking, “Hey, didn’t the Illini steamroll the Hawkeyes in the regular season? How did they lose this one?” My answer is that Iowa is/was a very young team this year, so their improvement is/was much more drastic than other teams. Honestly, if the Illini could’ve had their pick of opponent in their region, I think the Illini would’ve rather played Nebraska, the 6-seed, than Iowa, the 7-seed.
- I’m in no way blaming them for the loss, but Silber’s and Pasquale’s missed chances loom large. Like, this team snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in two matches because either Silber or Pasquale got only one opportunity that they finished (Michigan State for Silber and Northwestern for Pasquale). Really, I’m not just being polite saying that it’s not solely their fault. The team should’ve created multiple opportunities for each of them every match, and it’s tough to win every match where you’re relying on a player to be perfect at one specific moment.
- The battle of the night was on Iowa’s right wing, where Ingles kept going toe-to-toe with Illini left back Ashley Cathro. It was right in front of me in the second half, and it RULED. Over and over again, Ingles would get the ball with space, and Cathro would have to make a pivotal tackle to snuff out a chance. More often than not, Cathro did. Of course, Ingles got the last laugh, but again, I’m not going to put the blame fully on Cathro because that ball should’ve been cleared much better.
- Now, some positivity, courtesy of Summer Garrison. She got bumped from the starting lineup by Hope Breslin, but she still played a massive role in the game, but not as an attacker. After an injury kept Lauren Stibich out and some niggling injury issues limited the starter, Katelynn Buescher to just NUMBER minutes, Garrison was called upon to be the right back in Illinois’ 4-5-1 lineup.
“She’s probably one of the most versatile people we have,” Coach Janet Rayfield said about Garrison after the match.
Considering she’s played most of the year as the attacking midfielder, I would have to agree. I’ll even go a step further and say she’s one of the smartest players on the team.
Here’s my proof:
Exhibit A: The game-winning goal from the Michigan State match. You see that blur heading towards the front post, dragging all of the defenders with her, leaving Silber wide open on the back post? That’s Garrison.
Pasquale to Silber. A connection like no other!#Illini ⚽ pic.twitter.com/GLFq2vWr3Z— Illinois Soccer (@IlliniSoccer) March 28, 2021
Exhibit B: The game-winning goal from the Northwestern match. That spin? The awareness to slip it out to Pasquale when three Wildcats were crashing down on her? That’s Garrison.
ICE IN HER VEINS! @kendrapasquale pic.twitter.com/7bNB4ncJez— Illinois Soccer (@IlliniSoccer) April 3, 2021
Exhibits C-Z: What she did at right back last night. It’s one thing as a forward to know how to beat a defender one-on-one. It’s a whole other thing as a forward to know how a defender wins one-on-ones and replicate that. Granted, as Rayfield mentioned in her postgame interview, Garrison has played right back before, but to have all that knowledge for how to attack and defend 1v1s and then mesh it together to add to it…it’s an incredible skill to have.