CHAMPAIGN – Iowa's throwing a big soccer bash Friday night, and there's nothing Missy Kann and the Illini would like more than to be the hairball in the Hawkeyes' punch bowl.
Eastern Illinois crashed their party Wednesday night. Time to bust up someone else's.
"We've got to go in no holds barred," Kann said. "It's going to set the mood for the whole season."
Fast-flushing their Division I home debut and first Division I loss were easy for the Illini.
After falling 7-1 to Eastern before 849 paying customers at their mosquito-infested home, they finally could break out the "Now it's the Big Ten" T-shirts and speak of Iowa, where they're headed today.
Friday marks the Big Ten debut for both the 4-1 Illini and the 3-2 Hawkeyes, the two newest women's soccer-playing members of the conference.
As rivalries go, this one promises to be right up there with Coke-Pepsi, Ali-Frazier and Ford-Chevy.
"It's a big rivalry anyway, then now you add this," said Kann, a senior captain. "I think both of us want to show that we're here the Big Ten. Both are trying to take the top."
Both would be happy just to make the eight-team Big Ten tournament field. To earn a trip to Minneapolis in November, they're going to have to KO one of the league's eight established programs, five of which made the NCAA tournament last season.
They'd have an easier time beating Eastern.
"Oh yeah, it gets harder," UI coach Jillian Ellis said. "It's a very good conference, but we'd like to make our mark."
"We don't mind being the underdogs," freshman Julie Schueller said.
Good, because they could be it often. In the Big Ten, only Purdue has less Division I experience than Illinois. The Boilermakers introduce women's soccer in 1999.
Even Iowa's got an edge, hiring a coach (Stephanie Gabbert) long before the spring signing period. Ellis was brought in after it.
"The fact that they had a year to recruit and all that ... I'll put that aside," Ellis said. "We're in the same boat. We're playing our first Big Ten game, they're playing theirs."
Illinois is hoping to avoid another program first: a losing streak. The Hawkeyes are in the midst of theirs, coming off losses to Georgia State and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
"We know we can come back from this," UI sophomore Leah Pyter said. "We're just ready to prove ourselves again."