Illini coach settling in for second season

CHAMPAIGN – Before Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther hired Janet Rayfield as his women''s soccer coach last summer, he had a long list of questions for the North Carolina graduate.

And one of them was a whopper.

"He was the first one to ask me if I planned on being at Illinois for a long time," Rayfield said as Illinois prepared to host Oakland tonight in this weekend''s Illini Cup. "He was looking for a commitment from me, and at the same time, I was at a point in my life where I wanted the next job I took to be one I could be at for a long time, so I was looking for a commitment on his part, too.

"So we were asking the same question of each other, and the answer was yes for both of us."

Rayfield''s answer was music to Guenther''s ears. Since the program took flight in 1997, the Illinois AD has hired three women''s soccer coaches. The job was becoming a revolving door, a quick stop for coaches looking for something bigger and better. But when Guenther found Rayfield, he found a coach with impressive credentials who planned to make C-U her permanent home.

"(Guenther) knew that one of the things this program needed was sta-bility," said Rayfield, a former All-American who has coaching experience at the collegiate, international and professional levels. "I told him that was something I could provide."

And just in time, too. Rayfield was hired late last summer after Tricia Taliaferro left Illinois to take over at Miami. Rayfield then added assistant coaches Dale Armstrong and Eric Bell a few weeks before the fall season started.

"We were sort of scrambling from Day 1," said Rayfield, who served as an assistant under Taliaferro from 1999 to 2000. "I met with most of the players right away, and I contacted the incoming freshmen after that, just to try to calm things down and assure everybody that the program was going to continue in the direction that they expected it to go in when they decided to play here."

At first, the players were a little skittish about the change. Especially Meghan Kolze, a senior defender who was recruited by Jillian Ellis and played for Taliaferro.

"It was really confusing, especially since the whole coaching staff was leaving this time," Kolze said. "We didn''t really know how to handle the situation."

The result was a disappointing fall in which the Illini dropped to 9-11-1 after a 12-8-1 season the year before.

"We had no idea what to expect from (Rayfield)," junior forward Tara Hurless said. "It was like we were all freshmen again."

A year later, it looks like Rayfield has all the kinks worked out, and the comfort level between the players and coaches increases every day.

"The team knows what they can expect from us as coaches, and they know what we expect from them as players," Rayfield said. "That made the summer a lot better in terms of their training mentality, and it''s made the preseason better in terms of what we''ve been able to accomplish."

One of the Illini''s biggest accomplishments in the preseason was a 4-0 exhibition victory at Marquette, a step in the right direction after going 2-9-1 away from campus last season. Illinois also is getting better defensively, giving up one goal in two scrimmages. A year ago, the Illini were last in the Big Ten in goals allowed, giving up 34 in 21 games.

"We want to reduce the number of goals we give up," Rayfield said. "We have to get better defensively, and we''ve really focused on that, and as a result, we feel we''re right where we need to be at this point in time."

Fresh faces

Second-year UI soccer coach Janet Rayfield is adding six freshmen to the mix this season. Here''s a look at her new players:

Name, Position, Hometown, Comment

Jessica Bayne, Forward, Troy, McDonald''s All-American will make an immediate offensive impact

Sarah Brown, Defender, Asheville, N.C., 6-footer will give Rayfield''s club added size in front of the goal

Michelle Nadeau, Defender, Lake Zurich, Sister of former Illini Heather Nadeau a great one-on-one defender

Quinn Reynolds, Midfielder/Defender&, Jamestown, N.C., Versatile athlete played on a male club team for two years

Eva Strickland, Forward/Midfielder, Seattle, Left-footed scoring threat has met Tiger Woods, Gary Payton

Brittany Ward, Forward/Midfielder, Champaign, 2001 N-G Area Player of the Year adjusting well to college game

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

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