Illini Soccer Scoring Early and Often
Janet Rayfield's squad has already scored 17 goals, compared to 32 all of last season.
Illini Week in Review
The Illinois soccer team faced its first two road tests of the season last week, and came through with a pair of wins, though Sunday's contest against Louisville gave Janet Rayfield's squad its first real challenge of the season. It took Illinois a while on Friday afternoon to adjust to Ball State's artificial playing surface, but once they did, the goals game in bunches. Niki Read notched her first career hat trick, Vanessa DiBernardo picked up goal number five on the season, and freshman Stephanie Pouse collected her first career goal in a 5-0 whitewashing of the Cardinals. It was the first shutout of the season for the Illini.
Sunday's contest at Louisville would prove to be a much sterner test for the Orange and Blue. The Cardinals stymied the Illini attack for much of the afternoon with their 4-5-1 formation and collected the first goal of the afternoon in the 24th minute. But sophomore Megan Pawloski would even the score at 1-1 late in the second half, then junior Shayla Mutz came through with the golden goal in the 95th minute as the Illini finished off a 2-1 overtime victory to move to 4-0 this season. It was the first goal of the season for both Pawloski and Mutz.
Two major conference foes come calling this week to Champaign, as the USC Trojans visit on Friday night in a rematch of last season's first-round NCAA matchup won by the Trojans. Then it's the Colorado Buffaloes that come calling on Sunday afternoon. Illinois won the last matchup between these schools in Denver 2-1 in 2009.
Big Ten Week in Review
Illinois 5 Ball State 0
Illinois 2 Louisville 1 OT
Team of the Week: Penn State. The Nittany Lions started off the season with a 4-0 loss to Stanford in Palo Alto. However, since then they're 3-0 and have outscored their opponents 12-0, including a 5-0 whitewashing of perennial Big East contender West Virginia.
Team of the Weak: Northwestern. The Wildcats have played pretty good competition to start the season, but they really needed to pick up a win against Cincinnati on Friday night to build a little confidence before a west coast road trip this weekend that includes a visit to (gulp) Stanford. The 'cats are 0-3 and desperately need a win at St. Mary's on Thursday to stop the bleeding.
Big Ten Power Rankings
This is the first edition of the power rankings. After two weeks of play, I feel like I can at least take a stab at these, so here we go:
1. Illinois. Let me qualify this by saying that the Illini have not played the toughest schedule thus far (105th toughest according to Massey ratings, the closest thing soccer has to the Sagarin ratings). But, I think they've played the best overall soccer so far, outscoring their opponents 17-3, including a 5-1 win over a Toledo team that just missed the NCAA Tourney last season. For comparison's sake, last year's NCAA qualifying Illini scored 32 goals in 19 games. This weekend's games against USC and Colorado should be a bump up in competition.
2. Penn State. The 5-0 blasting of West Virginia is an indicator of the talent this year's Nittany Lion squad can throw at opponents. A tournament in Pittsburgh awaits PSU this weekend.
3. Wisconsin. We'll see how good Friday's win over Washington turns out to be. The Huskies lost to Iowa State on Sunday, but entered the season nationally ranked. UW was also competitive against Notre Dame in their season opener.
4. Ohio State. Losing by a goal at Missouri isn't a bad loss. That was the first real test of the 2011 season for the Buckeyes, who take a big step up in competition this weekend when they travel to West Virginia and host North Carolina.
5. Minnesota. The Gophers are just 2-2, but one of those losses was at top five Maryland, and the other was at San Diego State, who just beat top ten Portland. They also picked up a nice win over UCSB on their west coast swing.
6. Michigan State. Their only loss is to Milwaukee and All-American Sarah Hagen, who are climbing the national rankings. The offense still hasn't been as prolific as you might expect with Laura Heyboer on this squad. She needs some help.
7. Michigan. Last week was a good one for the Wolverines, getting comfortable wins over a pair of outmatched foes. A win at Pepperdine this Sunday would likely help them move up my rankings for next week.
8. Purdue. The Boilermakers don't have any so-called bad losses, but they're just 1-3. It was a good effort on Friday against Oregon State, but they came up just short. The defense could still be erratic, like a season ago, as they gave up four goals to Missouri on Sunday.
9. Nebraska. Lost a high-scoring affair to Denver last week, which looks like it could be a continuing trend from last year. They need two wins this weekend against Arkansas and Northern Arizona.
10. Northwestern. Three games, and three one-goal losses for the Wildcats. Much like last season, they've been competitive, but have struggled to find consistent offense.
11. Iowa. It's a familiar theme thus far for the Hawkeyes, get non-conference wins over teams that struggle in smaller conferences. The lone "power" conference team left on their non-league schedule is Iowa State.
12. Indiana. The Hoosiers did pick up their first shutout of the season on Sunday, beating Oakland 1-0, but lost at South Florida. We'll see how good the Bulls are this season, though they were solid a season ago. Meanwhile, IU has to face Notre Dame this Sunday.
To the Polls
With Ohio State losing at Missouri last week, it's not an especially good week for the Big Ten in the national rankings. The conference fares well in the Top Drawer Tournament 64, with six teams still in their projected tournament field. The Buckeyes lead the way at #16, followed by Penn State at #27, Illinois ranked at #29, then Minnesota (#33), Michigan (#36) and Wisconsin (#37).
Soccer America wasn't kind to Ohio State this week. The Buckeyes had been ranked #9 last week, but fell all the way out of the rankings this week in the Soccer America Top 25. That leaves Illinois as the only Big Ten team in this week's poll at #19, up three spots from last week.
The NSCAA Top 25 wasn't quite as harsh with the Buckeyes, but OSU did drop eleven spots this week to #18. Illinois is one spot higher at #17, up two positions from a week ago.
Meanwhile, the Illini have also moved up to the top spot in the NSCAA Great Lakes Regional poll this week. Ohio State drops behind the Illini and Milwaukee into the #3 spot this week. Other Big Ten teams listed here are Penn State (#4), Iowa (#5), Minnesota (#7), Michigan (#9), Indiana (#10) and Michigan State (#11).
This week's Soccer Times Top 25 is the kindest to the Big Ten this week, with three teams in their coaches poll. Illinois leads the way here as well at #17, followed by Ohio State (#19) and Penn State (#22).
What's on Tap
Illinois hosts two Pac 12 teams this weekend, as USC and Colorado will take part in the Illini/Boilermaker Cup. The Trojans are in Champaign tomorrow night, while the Buffaloes will be about two hours away in West Lafayette. They'll flip-flop on Sunday, in what should be a good weekend for soccer in both cities.
USC has struggled out of the gates to a 1-3 start. Defense has been the issue so far for the Women of Troy, as they've allowed 9 goals in their first four games. They got their first win on Sunday against a 1-3 Pacific squad by a score of 2-1, but were outshot 11-8 in the process. USC has been a bit of head scratcher so far, as they have much of the team returning that went to the NCAA second round last season.
Colorado came out strong with a pair of wins over Colorado College and Northern Colorado by a combined 8-0 margin, but stumbled last week in a 1-0 loss to Wyoming. The Buffs are looking for their first NCAA appearance since 2008, and they'll need to get some more non-conference wins to have a real shot. CU is taking a step up in league competition with their entrance into the Pac 12, so the more wins they can pile up before their league slate, the better.
On to the picks. Last week I went 18-3 in my first week of predictions, but this week could prove a bit more challenging. My winners are in bold.
Oakland at Michigan State. MSU's new all-time leading scorer, Laura Heyboer, will look to add to her staggering goal totals against the Golden Grizzlies, who have struggled to an 0-3 start.
Ohio State at West Virginia. The Buckeyes struggled last weekend in a loss to Missouri and a one-goal victory over Wright State. The Mountaineers need a quality non-conference victory for their NCAA resume. I'll go with WVU at home.
Northwestern at St. Mary's. The Wildcats have a tall task on Sunday at Stanford, and this one won't be easy. I'll go with NU, but not with much confidence.
USC at Illinois. This is largely the same USC team that beat Illinois 3-1 in the NCAA Tournament last season. The Trojans have struggled out of the gate, but I'll stick with the pick I made at the start of the season. This will certainly be the most talented team the Illini have faced so far this season.
Indiana vs. Western Michigan. The Broncos aren't a bad side, but I think the Hoosiers will have enough to pick up the win.
Iowa at George Washington. GW has been a team with an RPI of 200+ the past two seasons and has given no indication of being much better in 2011.
Michigan at UC Riverside. The Woverines open their west coast swing against a squad that already has more wins this season (2) than they did all of last year (1).
Georgia at Minnesota. The Bulldogs took a step back last season after a very good 2009 campaign. An early loss to Villanova may indicate another up and down season for Georgia.
Arkansas at Nebraska. The Razorbacks gave up four goals apiece to Oklahoma State and Kansas in consecutive losses. The Huskers should be able to take advantage of a porous defense.
NC State vs. Penn State. This game in Pittsburgh is the first real non-conference test for the Wolfpack. They appear improved from last season, but the Nittany Lions have already faced quality opposition this season.
Colorado at Purdue. I really see this one as a tossup. It's the Buffaloes first game outside their home state, and Purdue played Oregon State very tough in West Lafayette. When in doubt, go with the home team.
Wisconsin at Dayton. This is another game I really struggled with. As with NC State, this will be the first NCAA Tourney calibur opponent Dayton has faced this season, while Wisconsin has already been battle tested against Notre Dame and Washington.
Colorado at Illinois. I expect the Illini to rebound on Sunday at home.
Indiana at Notre Dame. The Hoosiers have a chance to win if...well...not coming up with much here. It will likely be a long afternoon in South Bend.
Iowa at American. The Hawkeyes should get a pair of wins in D.C. If not, it's a very bad sign.
Michigan at Pepperdine. The Waves are perennially a solid side, and are off to a 4-0 start this season, including a victory at Cal.
Michigan State at Akron. The Spartans will be very aware of the Zips win over Michigan to start the season. Tom Saxton will make sure of that.
Milwaukee at Minnesota. All-American Sarah Hagen takes on a very physical Minnesota defense. Should be a great game. I'll take the Panthers, which isn't an upset.
North Carolina at Ohio State. The Tar Heels simply have too much talent all over the field. Look for OSU to keep it close, at least for a while.
Colorado College vs. Penn State. The Nittany Lions will face either Colorado College or Pittsburgh on Sunday. They should have enough to beat whichever team they face.
USC at Purdue. The Trojans have too much talent to keep a losing record for very long.
Wisconsin at Cincinnati. Alev Kelter is back for the Badgers after missing the first week of the season to play in the Hockey World Cup. She's an important presence in the midfield.
On the Air
You can hear the USC-Illinois game tape delayed tomorrow night after Illinois Volleyball. The game starts at 7pm, and our broadcast should start around 9pm. There's a chance of thunderstorms tomorrow night, so we'll hope the lightning stays away. Tim Ditman will join me once again on the broadcast. Hope you can tune in.
Thanks for reading.