UI looks to senior scorer for postseason experience

UI looks to senior scorer for postseason experience

CHAMPAIGN – When they played club soccer and won all those state cups, Colleen Joyce and Sarah Rowland talked about playing on the same college team.
Joyce and Rowland, who have played together for about 10 years, both took recruiting trips to Utah. But the players ended up going their separate ways.
Joyce, a McHenry native, landed at Montana, and Rowland of Glen Ellyn went to Villanova. But after a year, Rowland transferred to Illinois. Joyce, who struggled with lupus, started getting ideas.
"I had gotten really sick, and I had been talking to her and Lindsay Johnson a lot," Joyce said. "They kept telling me to come here."
Joyce came to Illinois after her sophomore year, and Rowland and the rest of the Illini are happy about the decision. Going into Thursday''s Big Ten tournament opener with Iowa in West Lafayette, Ind., Joyce leads the team in goals and points, and the senior ranks third in the conference in both categories.
"I knew her from our Sparta club team and the Olympic Development team," Rowland said. "Every year, she gets better and better."
Joyce''s continued improvement was a key to Illinois'' third-place Big Ten finish. A second-team all-conference player as a junior, Joyce had to pick up some of the scoring slack left by Emily Brown, who is sitting out the season.
"Colleen''s done a good job of doing that and being one of our leaders," head coach Tricia Taliaferro said. "She had NCAA tournament experience, so she''s been a positive force. She''s someone we''ve turned to for goals."
She notched a pair in the season opener and has three game-winning goals so far. Taliaferro has played her at forward, but Joyce is settling back into her natural center midfielder position, forming a potent frontline at times with Tara Hurless and Laura Freeman.
"It''s definitely been different because my role has changed throughout the season," said Joyce, who had 10 goals and five assists last season. "Ididn''t look at it as more pressure but as an opportunity."
For a little of both, check out her effort in the team''s first win against conference runner-up Michigan. She tied the game with 40 seconds left and scored on a penalty kick 2:33 into overtime for the win.
"There was (40) seconds left, and she scored from 40 yards out to the upper left-hand corner of the net," Rowland said. "It was probably the best goal I''ve ever seen her have."
Taliaferro said Joyce is a "smarter player, more confident," and Rowland said you can''t find a harder worker. Joyce, a psychology major, said she might go into coaching, and she might counsel her teammates when the NCAA tournament field is revealed Monday.
The good news for the Illini (10-6-1) is the NCAA field expanded from 48 to 64 teams, they were third in the conference and they''re riding a five-game unbeaten streak. The bad news is losses to Minnesota and Evansville won''t help with the selection committee.
The NCAA tournament is the ultimate goal, so it adds a little more drama to this weekend''s conference tourney. And Illinois has beaten all three teams in its half of the bracket.
"We''re kind of digging ourselves out of a hole," Taliaferro said. "I think that''s in the back of our heads, that we want to go to the NCAAs. Ideally, you want to win the Big Ten tournament so you don''t have to worry."

Sections (3):Illini Sports, Sports, Soccer
Categories (3):Illini Sports, Soccer, Sports


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