Mykines lifts Illini to Big Ten title match
EVANSTON — Not long ago, Illinois simply was hoping to make the 64-team NCAA soccer tournament.
But a late-season flourish — and a run to the Big Ten tournament title match — has Janet Rayfield's hard-charging bunch wanting more.
"We'd love to host (a first-round match)," senior midfielder Marissa Mykines said. "Every win gets us closer to where we want to be."
Mykines extended the Illini's unbeaten streak to 10 matches with an overtime goal in the 91st minute against Michigan State in Friday's tournament semifinal. The second-seeded Illini's 1-0 win sends them against top-seeded Penn State at 3 p.m. Sunday (BTN, WDWS 1400-AM) with plenty at stake.
"The ultimate goal is to win a Big Ten tournament championship," Mykines said.
The NCAA tournament pairings will be announced at 3 p.m. Monday. No. 20 Illinois is in line to host one of the 32 first-round matches.
"We're certainly gonna look to get that automatic bid so we don't have to worry about it," coach Janet Rayfield said.
A victory Sunday would give Illinois the league's automatic bid to the NCAAs.
Penn State beat Illinois 1-0 on Sept. 25. The Illini haven't lost since.
"I don't think it's really revenge," Rayfield said. "We're looking to step up against the last team that beat us."
The Illini haven't hosted an NCAA match since 2004. That team made it to the Elite Eight.
"This team understands we have the ability to break records and do things like that," Mykines said. "We're not nervous at all. We're just excited to have the opportunity."
Illinois won its quarterfinal match against Ohio State on penalty kicks. Mykines made sure the semifinal didn't last as long.
"We really didn't want to go to PKs because it ends up being a 50-50 shot," she said. "We were trying to finish off the game as quickly as possible."
Steph Panozzo made seven saves in the school-record fifth 1-0 win of the season for the Illini (15-4-2), who mobbed Mykines after her goal.
"I was shocked by how fast our backline got up to us after I scored," she said. "I guess we had more energy than we thought. It was a crazy dogpile."
The Illini will train this morning and rest tonight. At the tournament site since Tuesday, they'll return to Champaign on Sunday night.
"You feel good. You're still playing. You're still in the mix for Sunday. Gotta feel good about that," Rayfield said.