New UI soccer coach will impart own championship experience to Illini

New UI soccer coach will impart own championship experience to Illini

As the school''s first 30-goal scorer, Janet Rayfield was the first star in a long line of soccer talent for the storied North Carolina women''s program.
She was a freshman when the program began in 1979, and the four-year captain helped take the Tar Heels to a national championship by her junior year. Rayfield helped start a dynasty that has accounted for 17 national titles, and she paid attention to the process.
Rayfield will bring that North Carolina experience – as well as 20 years of coaching – to Illinois as the Illini women''s soccer team''s new head coach.
That''s definitely one of my goals, to share my experiences of what it''s like and what it takes to get a program to that level, Rayfield said. It''s something that has shaped me on and off the field.
Rayfield was hired Tuesday to replace Tricia Taliaferro, who took over the Miami program after three years as Illinois'' head coach. Rayfield is the team''s third head coach as it heads into its sixth season.
The Illini are coming off a 12-8-1 season in which they posted their best Big Ten finish and reached the conference tournament championship game for the first time. Illinois also earned a berth in the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
The question for Rayfield and the Illini is, Where do they go from here?
I definitely think they''re poised to move up to that next level, Rayfield said. They''re knocking on the door of being respected at the national level. Being competitive on the national level will come as I get a better inside view of the program. It''s reached new heights every year and since (the first year), and I think it will continue to reach new heights.

Reaching for the top
The Illini have broken into various national rankings during the past few seasons, but they''re still off the radar in terms of elite programs.
I keep track of about 100 schools for our top 25, and Illinois is often in my top 50, and it''s a team I''m always looking looking at, said Scott French, a senior editor at SoccerAmerica magazine who handles the publication''s rankings. A lot of what we do ratingswise is based on competition and how you do against better competition, so losing to a 3-8 Wisconsin team doesn''t help because a Santa Clara or a Texas isn''t going to do that.
Randy Diggs, editor and publisher of Soccer Buzz magazine, said he expected bigger strides after the Illinois program began in 1997 under coach Jillian Ellis, who left for UCLA after two years.
Before Jillian left, she had done the right things to put the school where it needed to be – like Penn State, Diggs said. The last year she was there, I thought Illinois was getting ready to make a big statement, and then she took off. Tricia kept Illinois on the map, but it will be interesting to see what happens.
The good news is that fortunes can change quickly in college soccer. String together a couple good recruiting classes, and you can make a splash like Nebraska, which rose to elite status after a breakthrough 1996 season keyed by several Canadian recruits.
You go back to when women''s soccer was in its infancy, and who would have guessed Nebraska would be a powerhouse? French said. Texas was absolutely nothing, and then they won the regular season Big 12 title with mostly freshmen and were in our top five this year. It''s a matter of getting a good coach who has a vision.
Rayfield has a vision for the program, and she''s familiar with the team. Rayfield was an assistant under Taliaferro during the 1999 season and continued living in Champaign after taking a position on the U.S. National team''s staff the past two years.
As part of that job, she served as an assistant coach to youth national team programs and did plenty of scouting from college-level players down to the national under-14 team.
I think her experience with the U.S. National team is the focus and excitement any Illinois fan should have, Diggs said. It speaks well of her respect from the soccer community. And being around the best youth players in the nation will bring respect to the program.

In her back yard
Rayfield believes the Midwest has a strong recruiting base. The Chicago and St. Louis areas and Ohio annually produce top talent.
I think Illinois has a great pool of players to pull from, Diggs said. Northwestern and Michigan dropped back by losing kids to Top 25 schools. If Illinois can get back and do that, keep local kids at home and infuse the program with high-level talent from other regions, they have the potential. They''re right on the verge of Top 25, and it''s just stringing together a good season. I think they have the talent already.
Stability also can be a key to long-term success. Anson Dorrance coached Rayfield and is still at North Carolina more than 500 wins later. Jerry Smith led Santa Clara to the 2001 national title in his 15th year at the school.
Rayfield, who is working on a doctorate in physiology, wants to be involved in athletics and academics at Illinois for a long time to come.
I think what happens is a coach finds a program where there''s a great fit, Rayfield said. That adds to success and their ability to stay there. I think Illinois is a great fit for me. It''s the type of institution that fits my personality, and it''s the type of players I want to deal with. I hope it has long-term stability.
Rayfield has spoken to several returning players and e-mailed the rest. She''s trying to contact incoming freshmen and is glad she doesn''t have to move to take the job.
Rayfield said the program is in great shape, and she will set lofty goals when the team comes together in the fall. She expects Illinois to make that next leap soon.
It''s a combination of recruiting and bringing in that kind of talent and establishing the tradition and mentality at that level, Rayfield said. The program is well on its way. That''s one of the exciting things for me. They want to be competitive at that level.

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

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