Tourney run starts at home

CHAMPAIGN – The Illinois women''s soccer team that took the field Sept. 7 is far different from the one that reached last weekend''s Big Ten tournament final.
Since that 2-1 loss to Syracuse in the season''s third game, players have evolved and lineups have changed numerous times. That''s why the Illini are glad to have another shot at Syracuse when it counts most.
Illinois will host the Orangemen on Friday in their NCAA tournament opener. The Illini, who will host a four-team subregional, reached the NCAA tournament for the second straight season, and they want to settle the score.
We''re definitely excited about playing them, junior Rebecca Johnson said. Every team grows and changes throughout the year. Teams progress and it will be exciting to see how different each team has become over the year.
Syracuse is one of two teams in the subregional to beat Illinois this season. Evansville, which topped the Illini 2-0 on Sept. 30, faces second-seeded Santa Clara in Friday''s first game.
The Broncos are ranked No. 2 in the nation. UI assistant coach K.C. Crabb said they stack up well with top-seeded North Carolina and - ex-Illini coach Jillian Ellis'' third-seeded UCLA Bruins. It might seem strange for a No. 2 seed – eight of the 64 teams are seeded – to travel, but Crabb said that''s to Santa Clara''s benefit.
According to the selection committee in the interview they had at the end, they''re trying to protect the top eight seeds, Crabb said. In the draw, if they had a home game, they could have played West Coast teams that were ranked pretty high.
The Illini, who joined Penn State and Michigan as Big Ten tournament representatives, are unranked but on a roll. They''d won five in a row before an overtime loss to the Nittany Lions in Sunday''s conference title game.
It was extremely exciting and to know we''re hosting tops it off, Johnson said of Monday''s pairings show. We actually didn''t think we''d be able to host. But to get to host two years in a row is a big deal, especially because we could have two games in a row at home.
Crabb said there''s a rivalry with Syracuse. Illinois coach Tricia Taliaferro and Orangemen coach April Kater are good friends, and Syracuse knocked off the Illini 3-0 last season.
It''s so cool to see how our program has grown every single year, Johnson said. It''s great to be part of a program like that.

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

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