Illini have a field day
CHAMPAIGN – A record crowd, a lot of offense and a win against a 1998 NCAA tournament team.
Can't be a better way to christen a new stadium than the way Illinois' women's soccer team and its fans went about it under the lights Friday night.
In the first game on their lush new field, the Illini treated a school-record crowd of 878 to a 3-1 win over chippy Marquette in both teams' season openers.
"I can breathe now," Tricia Taliaferro said after her UI head coaching debut.
Emily Brown, Lisa Baldwin and Tara Schuling each knocked in a goal for the Illini, who were all nervous wrecks heading into their showdown with the team to beat in Conference USA.
"I couldn't sleep last night," Baldwin said. "I was up watching movies until, like, 4 in the morning. I get nervous before every game, but I was exceptionally nervous today because it's our first game on the field and the start of the season. It was awesome."
Brown helped settle her teammates' stomachs with the first goal in stadium history, which she knocked in with her noggin 6:09 into the game.
Villanova transfer Sarah Rowland set her up, one of her two assists.
"All I had to do was tap it in," Brown said. "Easy header goal."
Later in the half, Lindsay Johnson assisted Baldwin on the second goal in stadium history. The offensive-minded Illini fired 16 shots, just missing on a bunch of others and keeping the crowd into it.
"We're going to play an aggressive style," Taliaferro said. "We have the goal scorers. We have the speed."
The Illini had rave reviews for their new field, located inside the UI track and within sniffing distance of South Farms. They're on it again Sunday against Eastern Illinois.
"It's level," Taliaferro said. "Our practice facility's a little bumpy."