Hurless gives Illini first shot at title

Hurless gives Illini first shot at title

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Her Illinois teammates call her Junior, and even 5-foot-5 Tara Schuling calls 5-foot-4 Tara Hurless little Tara.
But after two rounds of the Big Ten women''s soccer tournament, no player has stood taller than Hurless. Of course, the freshman still was hard to see during the postgame pileup after scoring with 19 seconds left in overtime to beat Michigan 2-1 in the semifinals.
This is great for us, Hurless said. I just go out there to play. I don''t look for the goals. If anybody else scored, it would be just as good.
Illinois (12-6-1) beat the Wolverines (12-7-1) in OT for the second time this season, but this one was even more dramatic, and it set up Sunday''s noon championship match with Penn State (16-3-1), which beat Ohio State 2-0 in the other semi.
Surprise, surprise, Penn State, Illini coach Tricia Taliaferro said. There''s no love lost between the two. We''ve had good matches last year and this year. We''re excited to play against them again.
They''re excited to reach the conference title game for the first time, and they''re probably still buzzing after Friday''s finish.
After a stoppage in play with about 30 seconds left, Schuling got the ball near midfield and blasted it deep into Michigan territory, where Hurless got control, blew past her defender and ripped the game-winner past Wolverines goalkeeper Suzie Grech.
Tara said make sure you make eye contact with me, get behind them and then get it in the back of the net, said Hurless, who has 10 goals. That''s exactly what ended up happening.
That''s happened a lot lately for Hurless. She was not the conference freshman of the year, but she''s the tournament MVP so far.
Hurless leads the tournament with four goals and has both game-winners for Illinois. After Schuling sent the ball ahead, Taliaferro was happy to see Hurless on the other end.
She''s just a goal scorer, Taliaferro said. She''s a special player who is going to continue to get better.
Schuling''s touch couldn''t get much better. Roughly 103 minutes earlier – 55 seconds into the game to be precise – she launched a perfect corner kick that freshman Christine Sinak headed in for her second goal of the season.
Our freshmen are huge, Schuling said. I can''t say enough about them. They''re a huge part of this team.
Sinak said they practiced that play all week and Schuling''s pass was perfect, but the emotion didn''t last long. About eight minutes later, Michigan''s Abby Crumpton broke through and scored to tie the game.
When you score early, it''s tough because you''ve got to hold it and think about it the rest of the game, Sinak said. After they scored and came back, we knew we had a battle. The rest of the game was a fight.
Both teams had their chances throughout the second half and overtime, and a handful of great saves by Illinois'' Leisha Alcia and Grech kept the game going. But Hurless broke away and made history.
We try to take steps throughout the season and throughout the years, and this is the next step for us in our development, Taliaferro said. This is huge.
A win Sunday would be monumental. The Nittany Lions are 8-0 all time against the Illini, beating them 3-1 a month ago in Champaign and 2-1 in triple overtime in last year''s conference semifinals.
They boast three-time Big Ten Player of the Year Christie Welsh, the conference''s all-time leading scorer, and a vanload of all-conference players. Schuling''s not worried, and she''s glad to get a shot at Penn State in Illinois'' title-game debut.
It''s about time we''re in the finals, Schuling said. Christie Welsh, I''ve played with her all my life. She''s from New York. I''m from New York. There are no surprises. She''s their big gun. We''ve stopped her before, and we''ll stop her again.

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

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