At 4-0, Illini realize there's work to do
Illinois soccer coach Janet Rayfield liked what she saw on the field Sunday afternoon. And on the bus ride from Louisville, Ky., to Champaign later in the day, too.
No whooping and hollering over the team's 4-0 start and rise in the national rankings. Just worn-out players with ice bags in one hand and homework in the other.
"I know it's early, but I like what I see," Rayfield said. "As a staff we felt coming in we had a talented team. But we didn't know if we'd come together this quickly."
The 19th-ranked Illini survived their first test Sunday, rallying to beat Louisville 2-1 on Shayla Mutz's overtime goal. Illinois showed it could win without an offensive outburst (it had scored 15 goals in three previous matches) and with Vanessa DiBernardo (five goals in the 3-0 start) held in check.
"After three five-goal games, you worry about them coming in thinking things would be easy," Rayfield said. "Well, today wasn't easy. Today was a great game to test our mentality. We showed we could come from behind. We showed we could fight through on a Sunday on the road. I saw a lot of positives."
Megan Pawloski also scored and Steph Panozzo made four saves for her sixth college win. Mutz scored four minutes into overtime — and acted as if she'd been there before. Turns out she had. The junior scored the UI's most recent overtime goal, a game-winner against Iowa in 2010.
"It felt really good," Mutz said. "We are such an attacking team, fighting the whole game, it was awesome to be able to fight back and come through with the win. Today took a lot of heart."
The new Top 25 will be released Tuesday. Illinois should climb again ahead of a weekend homestand against USC and Colorado. The 4-0 start matches the second-best since Rayfield took over in 2002.
Not that anyone was talking about it on the bus Sunday night.
"This game was real helpful to see where this team was," Rayfield said. "The first three were to get in a rhythm. This one showed that this team has the ability to win a lot of soccer games."