Defense has carried the Illinois women''s soccer team all season. On Thursday, it carried the Illini into the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament.
Recording its school-record 11th shutout of the year, No. 11 Illinois defeated Michigan State 2-0 in the quarterfinals at Madison, Wis. The second-seeded Illini (14-3-2) will meet third-seeded Purdue (12-4-3) at 4:30 p.m. today.
The MAC will have six bowl-eligible teams this season. And will spend late November begging for a third lower-tier bid.
The Big Ten has seven bowl-eligible teams right now. With what would be a record eighth possibly on the way. The first seven know they are going to the postseason, equaling the Big Ten mark set in 1993, ''96, ''97, ''99 and 2002.
If there''s a difference in the Illinois team this season, coach Theresa Grentz sees it on the court.
In his second week as the Illinois starting quarterback, Dustin Ward thinks the timing will be better with the receivers.
Ward is working with a mostly inexperienced group. Going into the season, Mark Kornfeld, Eric McGoey and Ade Adeyemo had combined for 20 catches in their Illinois careers. And all 20 catches were by McGoey, who moved to safety after last season.
PEORIA – The decision felt perfect to Shaun Livingston. The timing was just right.
Given the chance to do it all again, the Peoria Central star would change only one thing: his clothes.
URBANA – Lavish gift baskets are being prepared. The T-shirts will have a "Survivor" theme, based on the reality TV show. And there''s Mexican on the banquet menu.
In other words, this isn''t your older sister''s college tennis tournament.
Illinois goalie Leisha Alcia, forward Tara Hurless and defender Meghan Kolze were named first team All-Big Ten on Wednesday at the league tournament at Madison, Wis. It is the first time in program history that Illinois has had more than one player make the first team.
Also, UI forward Jessica Bayne made the All-Freshman team.
Illinois tailback Morris Virgil returned to practice Tuesday after missing the Iowa game with a strained calf. The Urbana product''s chances of playing against Indiana have improved, Illinois coach Ron Turner said.
CHAMPAIGN – Leisha Alcia''s goalkeeping career began the same as most soccer netminders.
"I was probably 5-foot-2 at the age of 9, so you stick the big, goofy kid in net," Alcia said. "Also, I kind of wanted to play in net. I didn''t think I would stick with it."