Illini real crowd pleasers in soccer
CHAMPAIGN – If Saturday's a sign of things to come for Illinois women's soccer, Jillian Ellis may have an even bigger worry than her team's lack of experience.
Her stadium's lack of bleachers.
A near-capacity crowd showed up Saturday afternoon to greet the new Division I team in town at its temporary, 800-seat home on Stadium Drive.
And that was just for an exhibition. The real fun doesn't begin until Sept. 2, the day classes start and the Illini kick off their first varsity season against the St. Louis Billikens.
"School hasn't even started, and we've got a full bench," junior Sarah Aberle said. "It's really exciting, a lot better than we expected. I think it will get better as the year wears on, especially if we keep winning."
After Saturday's turnout, an extra 200 or so bleacher seats will be added in time for the regular season opener, associate athletic director Dana Brenner said.
If the crowd exceeds 1,000, the grass sure is comfy.
"It's tough to guess how many people will come out because we've got no track record here," Brenner said. "But it's encouraging to see us get that many for an exhibition."
The cost (nothing) and opponent (Illinois State) helped attendance.
The result (a 2-1 Illinois victory) may help bring folks back when it takes a ticket to get in ($3 general public, $1 kids).
"What we're trying to establish here is a mentality of defending our home and having pride in playing at home," Illini coach Ellis said. "I think, for any team to come in here, whether it's an exhibition or a real game, this is our home and we want to play well and win here.
"This starts a good tradition in that sense."
Like 15 of the 17 teams on the regular season schedule, Illinois State had the Illini beat in Division I experience.
Never mind that the Redbirds went 1-19-1 last season, their first in Division I.
"There were moments of real good soccer," Ellis said. "There were moments of brilliance."
Kelly Buszkiewicz provided two of them, the sophomore knocking in both UI goals.
One came off her right foot, a blast from about 30 yards out. One came off her noggin, with Aberle assisting.
Both came after Amy Gray put the Redbirds up 1-0 on a direct kick.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself to score goals because I'm an attacking player and that's my role," Buszkiewicz said.
Ellis is counting on more than that from the lone Illini with a Division I background. Like UI athletes Alicia Sheeler and Cristy Chapman, Buszkiewicz followed her coach to a new school, leaving Virginia for C-U.
"She's going to be a tent pole for us, and we're going to play around her and through her," Ellis said.
"I think Kelly can be an impact player in the Big Ten, definitely," said new ISU coach Pete Kowall, who's been a Michigan assistant the last three seasons.
What kind of impact her team will have in the Big Ten is another story.
First thing Ellis is going to do after the opener is hold an open tryout. She needs the bodies. The roster of 17 took a hit when forward Rachel Smith went down with a knee injury Saturday.
It takes 11 to field a team.
"We're all precious because we're such a small group," Ellis said.