CHAMPAIGN — After holding its previous three opponents to a total of three goals, the Illinois women’s soccer team thought it had fixed its sometimes-leaky defense.
Indiana wasted no time Wednesday proving the Illini wrong.
Less than 51/2 minutes into this Big Ten tournament quarterfinal match, the Hoosiers were on the board. By the 38th minute, Illinois had let in two more goals.
A hefty 3-0 halftime deficit proved to be too much to overcome as the fifth-seeded Illini fell 5-3 to fourth-seeded Indiana at the UI Campus Recreation Turf Fields.
“Everything was one step too late defending, and that kind of put us on our heels,” Illini midfielder Kassidy Brown said.
Illinois couldn’t regain its balance until it was too late. A penalty-kick goal early in the second half by senior midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo briefly gave the Illini hope. Now it was a two-goal deficit, nothing the Big Ten’s No. 2 scoring offense — and tied for No. 18 nationally — couldn’t overcome.
“We scored three goals against Minnesota in eight minutes,” pointed out Illini redshirt junior and Big Ten Forward of the Year Jannelle Flaws.
At halftime, UI coach Janet Rayfield reminded her team of that recent scoring splurge as part of this message:
“We’re a goal-scoring team, so let’s get out there and do what we do and score goals and take it one goal at a time.
“And I think we were doing that.”
The problem, however, was stopping the Hoosiers (14-5-1) from doing the same. Indiana answered DiBernardo’s goal with not one, but two of its own to build an insurmountable 5-1 advantage.
It marked the fifth time this season that the Illini (10-8-2) were gouged for at least four goals.
“This season has been a season where we haven’t been able to be consistent defensively,” Rayfield said. “Early on, it was (because) we were moving people around. And (Wednesday night) it was our decision-making ... in terms of our positioning or in terms of how we decided to step. And we didn’t have the communication that we needed.
“And credit Indiana. Every bad decision we made, they punished us for it.”
Despite the now-gaping deficit, Illinois continued to fight back. Flaws, the Big Ten’s leading goal scorer and among the top four in the nation, connected for her 21st of the season in the 75th minute. Brown followed soon after with a goal on an assist by DiBernardo.
With that, the Illini had outscored Indiana 3-2 after halftime.
“I think the second half showed a lot of heart, so that was good,” Brown said.
But heart and persistence weren’t enough on this night to move forward in the tournament. It was a rare early exit for the Illini, who before Wednesday had advanced to the semifinals in 11 of their previous 13 appearances in this event.
“We just have to say (that) on this night Indiana forced us to defend and we didn’t do a good job doing that,” Rayfield said. “You can’t give up five goals and expect to win a Big Ten tournament game, and give up goals that just were bad decisions a lot of the time.
“We scored three goals. That should be enough to win a Big Ten tournament game.”
In other first-round matches:
No. 3 Penn State 2, No. 6 Wisconsin 0
CHAMPAIGN — Taylor Schram and Tani Costa each scored, lifting the 20th-ranked Nittany Lions past the Badgers in a Big Ten tournament quarterfinal Wednesday.
With the win, the third-seeded Nittany Lions moved to Friday’s 11 a.m. semifinal match against seventh-seeded Iowa.
“I thought that the energy from the group (Wednesday) was fantastic,” Penn State coach Erica Walsh said. “In particular, I thought (keeper) Britt Eckerstrom was fabulous, coming off the line and taking command of her box. Overall I thought the defense was very good.”
No. 7 Iowa 1, No. 2 Michigan 0
CHAMPAIGN — Freshman Bri Toelle’s goal in the 62nd minute lifted Iowa to an upset Wednesday in a Big Ten tournament quarterfinal.
It was the Hawkeyes’ first postseason win in program history.
“Michigan is a good team, and with the surface and field turf with all the weather, the game wasn’t the same as it would have been on grass,” Iowa coach Ron Rainey said. “We had our one opportunity in the second half, and we put two good shots on goal and scored on the second one.”
No. 1 Nebraska 4, No. 8 Minnesota 1
CHAMPAIGN — Junior Mayme Conroy scored twice, leading the top-seeded Cornhuskers in a Big Ten quarterfinal Wednesday.
The Gophers scored in the first minute, but No. 18 Nebraska rallied. Jordan Jackson and Stacy Bartels also scored for the Cornhuskers, who will play fourth-seeded Indiana in Friday’s semifinals.
The Huskers (16-3-1) have won seven consecutive matches for the second time this season.
Simone Kolander gave the Gophers (11-7-2) the lead 39 seconds into the match.