1. Changing of the guard
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.
CHAMPAIGN — For some unfortunate athletes, the sophomore slump is more than just an abstract concept.
For Vanessa DiBernardo, it's merely a rumor.
"I've heard of it," she said. "That's definitely something I do want to avoid."
CHAMPAIGN — For a kite-flying enthusiast or a wind-farm owner, it could not have been a more ideal day.
For a soccer player, not so much.
Especially when the wind — clocked at a steady 36 mph with gusts up to 47 mph at the start of Sunday's match at Illinois Soccer Stadium — was blowing directly in your face,
CHAMPAIGN — It probably should come as no surprise that Illinois produced the Offensive Player of the Big Ten Tournament in women's soccer.
After all, the No. 16 Illini emerged from the eight-team scrum at Northwestern's Lakeside Field in Evanston last week with the first-place trophy.
What likely did open some eyes, however, was the identity of the award recipient.
CHAMPAIGN — The Illinois soccer team will begin its NCAA tournament journey against the team that starred in the 2010 event.
The Illini will host defending champion Notre Dame in a first-round match at 1 p.m. Sunday.
EVANSTON — When Illinois started the Big Ten slate 0-2-1, all those fuzzy feelings from a 6-2 nonconference slate started to disappear.
The NCAA tournament might have been looking bleak.
Well, Janet Rayfield's never-say-die Illini haven't lost since that three-match road swing ended without a victory.
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.
EVANSTON — After playing to a 1-1 draw through regulation and two overtimes against Ohio State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, the Illinois women's soccer team needed a big effort from goalkeeper Steph Panozzo during a shootout.