Despite loss, UI tourney-bound

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The wait was shorter, but Sunday night was still an anxious time for Lindsay Johnson and her Illinois soccer teammates.
A year ago, they had to wait two days after losing in overtime to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament to find out their NCAA tournament fate. After a 2-1 overtime loss Sunday to the Nittany Lions in the conference championship game, the Illini should get some answers when the pairings are announced at 2 p.m. today.
It''s not the most dramatic time to announce the field, but there''s plenty of suspense for Illinois.
It''s the sit-and-wait game, Johnson said. After this weekend, we''re hoping it''s there, even though some of the tough losses we''ve had set us back a little bit. Hopefully, we can keep our season going.
After reaching the tournament final for the first time, coach Tricia Taliaferro said the Illini (12-7-1) were a lock for the national tournament, which begins Friday.
I''m confident we''re into the tournament now, Taliaferro said. It''s just a matter of are we going to host or are we going to go on the road?
For what it''s worth, three-time Big Ten player of the year Christie Welsh believes Illinois should be in the field of 64. Penn State (17-3-1) improved to 9-0 overall against the Illini, but she''d hate to run into them in the postseason again.
It''s been said by a bunch of coaches that they match up athletically to us the best of all the teams in the Big Ten, said Welsh, who scored both Penn State goals. I think that''s true. A lot of times, we''ll be able to get things done because we are more athletic than other teams in our conference. But they match up pretty well with us.
Three of their last four matches have gone to overtime, with Illinois ending up heartbroken each time. Sunday''s 100-minute game was another classic, but the Illini are well past moral victories.
They have our number right now, Taliaferro said. We have to step through that, and once we beat them, then it''s going to be a confidence booster. We know we can play with them. We have to have the composure and experience from being in games like this to put them away.
Both teams had their chances late in regulation, and Illinois goalkeeper Leisha Alcia stopped a Joanna Lohman penalty kick with 14:11 left in regulation. With 4 minutes, 17 seconds left in overtime, Alcia stopped a Lohman blast, but Welsh put home the rebound for the win.
That was one of the few lowlights for Alcia all weekend. Alcia, who joined fellow Illini freshman Tara Hurless on the all-tournament team, made 10 saves against the Lions and 18 in the tournament.
Welsh, who makes her living abusing keepers, was impressed by Alcia, and so was Taliaferro.
She''s a player that''s earned the respect of her teammates and now the other teams in the conference, Taliaferro said. She''s played at high levels, and you could see that today.
Both of them had a huge impact for us this weekend. Tara had four goals (to lead the tournament), and Leisha made some big-time saves. I couldn''t be prouder of them. You don''t want to throw them into the deep end, but they responded.
Taliaferro''s team responded to a Penn State mistake to take the lead 13 seconds into the game. Off the opening kick, Illinois dumped the ball deep into Nittany Lions territory, where All-America goalkeeper Emily Oleksiuk misplayed it. Johnson stole the ball and scored her third goal of the season.
Maybe she thought I was going to stick with the defender out wide, Johnson said. She put it inside and played it too far. It was great.
Five minutes later, Welsh took a feed from Lohman and tied the game, leapfrogging Alcia as the ball hit the net. Both keepers came up with brilliant saves – and a few defenders also stopped potential goals – as the teams battled into overtime.
It would have been nice to beat these guys, Johnson said. Every year, we match up good with them. We''ve been doing this for four years now. It''s been a good matchup every time. Rumor has it we play them the best. I don''t know.

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

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