Nov. 9, 2003
MADISON, Wis. - On a sunny, 37-degree afternoon Sunday, the University of Illinois defeated Michigan, 2-0, at the McClimon Soccer Complex on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, to earn its first ever Big Ten Tournament Championship. After 79 minutes of scoreless action, Illinois' Tara Hurless drilled a 15-yard shot to the far post to put the Illini ahead, and Jessica Bayne secured the win just three minutes later.
Hurless, who was named the Tournament's Offensive MVP, scored the goal at 79:14, some 38 seconds after falling to the turf in agony. As she was trying to plant her footing, her knee did not lock properly and sent her to the ground immediately. Knowing that exiting the game would keep her out of the action for the remainder of the game, Hurless played through the pain, hobbled her way inside the 18, took a pass from Paula Faherty and punched it through to give the Illini the 1-0 lead.
"I wasn't able to lock my knee and I went down right away," said Hurless, who was certainly overcome by more joy than pain after the game. "I knew I couldn't leave the game so I just fought through it and was able to get a good look off of Paula's pass."
Bayne tacked on the final goal of the game at the 82:14 mark assuring Illinois its first ever Conference title. Bayne found herself one-on-one with Michigan goalie Megan Turra at the top of the box and released a rocket that tipped off the Turra's outstretched hand and into the top of the net. Turra recorded three saves on the day but was bombarded with an offensive attack with 10 minutes to go, which yielded both Illini scores.
Leisha Alcia recorded five saves as the Illini set a school record sixth-consecutive shutout. Illinois set the previous high of five in the middle of its 2003 campaign.
Not since Wisconsin in the 1994 Big Ten Tournament, which ironically was held in Madison, has a team shutout its opponents in all three tournament games. Illinois ousted seventh-seeded Michigan State, 2-0, and topped Purdue on Friday by the same score.
Illinois held a slight 11-10 advantage over the Wolverines in shots, but dominated 7-1 in corner kicks.
For Illinois head coach Janet Rayfield, Sunday's win mark the culmination of a season that has been full of nothing but success for the Illini. Last year, Illinois barley made the postseason tournament as the eighth seed, but the Orange and Blue turned it around in 2003.
"It has been a tough transition between last year and this year," she said. "This season is really a testament to our kids and the hard work they put forth. They bought into the process of what it takes to be a champion."
With the win, Illinois earns an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. The Fighting Illini improve to 16-3-2 on the year, while Michigan ends its season 9-7-6.