Cowgirls keeper blanks pesky Illini
STILLWATER, Okla. — Although no Illinois women's soccer team ever had faced Oklahoma State before Friday, the Illini were well aware of the Cowgirls' reputation.
On defense, there's none stingier. Not this season, anyway. Entering the second round of the NCAA tournament, no team in the nation owned more shutouts (16). No team had allowed fewer goals (seven). No team had a more microscopic goals-against average (0.295).
Having now witnessed this Cowgirl defense for herself, Illini senior defender Jenna Carosio understands why.
"Their goalkeeper is one of the best I've ever seen," she said of Adrianna Franch. "She had some amazing saves and kept them in the game."
The Cowgirls junior did more than that. She kept white-hot Illinois off the scoreboard.
No. 4 Oklahoma State ended the No. 16 Illini's 12-match unbeaten streak and their season, 1-0, in front of 1,190 fans at Cowgirl Soccer Com- plex.
The match was played on a campus grieving the loss of its women's basketball head coach and an assistant coach one day earlier in a fatal plane crash.
"It's to the credit of Oklahoma State for carrying on," said Illini coach Janet Rayfield, acknowledging the shock and pain that the Cowgirls' soccer players and coaching staff took into the match. "For those 90 minutes, those athletes could just be athletes and compete, and the tragedy be put aside for a short period of time. That's one of the beauties of sport.
"I'm sure now that the game is over, they're dealing with a multitude of emotions."
Rayfield added that the tragedy helped put things in perspective for her team, too.
"There's a loss of a game and a loss of a whole different magnitude," she said.
The Cowgirls (21-1-2) took a 1-0 lead when senior midfielder Annika Niemeier scored from 8 yards out in the 25th minute. Krista Lopez and Megan Marchesano assisted on the score.
With plenty of time left, Illinois (17-5-2) remained confident about its chances.
"We've been (trailing) first countless times ... and came back to win, so there was no panic by any means," Carosio said.
But when the score remained 1-0 at halftime and the minutes began to tick off in the second half, the Illini realized their season was on the line.
Despite going against the wind in the final half, Illinois outshot the Cowgirls 8-4 and had a 5-0 edge in corner kicks in the period.
"The urgency probably picked up a little bit," Carosio said. "We put the pressure on them in the second half. We had tons of chances. We just couldn't find the back of the net. It was one of those games."
Illinois outshot Oklahoma State 18-12, and junior goalkeeper Steph Panozzo had six saves to come within one of her career high.
But Franch was an impenetrable last line of defense for Oklahoma State. The junior recorded her 11th shutout of the season as Illinois was held scoreless for the second time in 2011.
Among Franch's seven saves was a stop of a first-half shot by Illini midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo that Rayfield still was raving about long after the game.
"She made an incredible save off Vanessa," Rayfield said. "Most of the time, that would have gone in the back of the net."
Not this time. Not against the keeper who prefers to go by a shortened first name.
"AD Franch is not just any goalkeeper," Rayfield said. "I think she made some saves today that we probably haven't seen because of her quickness. She's a difficult goalkeeper to get past. We really tested her down low."
The victory advanced the second-seeded Cowgirls to the Sweet 16, where they will face Maryland (12-5-4) here on Sunday. The Terrapins defeated Auburn 1-0 earlier Friday.
Meanwhile, the winningest Illini team in program history was denied a fourth trip to the round of 16.
"Aside from that one (goal allowed), I think we showed today we can play with anybody," Rayfield said. "Oklahoma State is a tough defensive team, and we gave them everything they could handle in the second half.
"For the most part, we played some great soccer tonight."