Aug. 25, 2005
Illini Look to Blend Youth, Experience in 2005
The last two years have seen records fall and new heights reached by the Illinois women's soccer team. The program's first Big Ten Tournament Championship in 2003 and first trip to the NCAA Elite Eight in 2004 have set high standards for the 2005 team. In addition to their incredible run to the Elite Eight in 2004, the Illini finished the season 4-0 against the highly regarded Big 12 and 8-0-1 at Illinois Soccer Stadium, the first time the Orange and Blue finished undefeated at home.
With a national reputation and big dreams, the Illini understand the challenges that lie ahead. The 2005 senior class is determined to leave its mark on this program. After losing two All-Americans to graduation in 2004 and facing a rugged schedule, repeating the success of the past few years will be difficult for the 2005 squad. But difficult is the choice the Illini of 2005 are committed to making. Along those lines, the team has adopted the motto "Difficult is Our Decision" for the season.
According to Coach Janet Rayfield, collective talent and great leadership will be the trademark of the 2005 Illinois team.
"We have the deepest roster we have ever had and I know we have tremendous leadership in our senior class," the fourth-year coach said. "That combination will allow us to challenge ourselves to meet the ever-increasing expectations and to handle them with poise and class."
For the first time since 2000, a player other than former Illini Tara Hurless will be Illinois' Offensive. Hurless won the award four years straight, but now a combination of seasoned veterans and a host of young talent will battle for the honor. The Illini return five forwards, Natasha Karniski, Jessica Bayne, Eva Strickland, Brittany Ward, and Ella Masar, who combined for 15 goals and 14 assists in 2004. With the addition of Charlotte Cooke, the Illini continue the "six-front" tradition with six players capable of contributing on the front line.
The combination of speed, finesse, and tenacity contained in the group will challenge defenses in numerous ways. Senior Natasha Karniski has a combination of skill and speed, and loves to get endline and serve the box. Bayne, who was Illinois' second-leading scorer in 2004 with eight goals - including three game-winners - and 19 points, has a tremendous shot, is deceptive on the ball and is a goal-scoring threat herself. But her ability as a playmaker will also create chances for everyone else. Masar also returns after notching five assists and three goals in her freshman campaign. Ward and Masar have pace and tremendous physical courage that make them dangerous in front of the goal. Strickland and Cooke have the strength and power to hold players off, protect the ball, and shoot with authority.
The trademark of an Illini midfielder is tremendous pride, a phenomenal fitness level, and a huge heart. With seniors Paula Faherty, Laura Redmond and Kimberly Coninx, that tradition will continue. Faherty, who had seven points on two goals and three assists in 2004, will again be the benchmark playmaker for the Illinois midfield. However, this year she will have help from Kristy Weeks, Quinn Reynolds and newcomer and three-time Wisconsin High School Player of the Year Marti Desjarlais.
Redmond established herself this spring as the midfield's defensive general, constantly leading and organizing. Coninx leads a very deep group of ball winners that will give the Illinois midfield tremendous depth. Kara Gostisha, Mari Jo Kohler, Erin Tyler and newcomer Jamie Alvis all have a tremendous ability in the air and a strong physical presence.
The 2005 Illinois defense has a combination of youth and experience. "Two seniors, a sophomore and a freshman may sound like a young defense but they won't play like one," Rayfield said. "This group has tremendous experience, collegiate and international, and great leadership. They will be the foundation of this team."
Two seniors, Kelly Campbell and Christen Karniski, will anchor the Illinois defense this year. Senior centerback, captain, and 2004 All-Big Ten selection, Campbell returns as the vocal leader of the Illini defense. Expect Canadian National Team member Emily Zurrer to be Campbell's sidekick and partner in securing the center of the Illinois defense despite 2005 being Zurrer's first collegiate season after joining the Illini in January. Senior and left back Christen Karniski is not only a defensive strength for Illinois but an offensive weapon as well. Having tallied seven points on two goals and three assists in 2004, she attacks out of the back, beating players one-on-one and serving the box as well as the forwards she often has to defend. Mary Therese McDonnell learned a lot from Christen her freshman year and will bring similar qualities to the right side of the Illinois defense. Shannon McDonnell, who had a very good spring season, and newcomer Jessica Levitt will provide depth at the outside back. The versatility of several ball-winning midfielders - Gostisha, Alvis, Kohler, and Tyler - provide excellent depth at center back as well.
The battle is on for the starting spot in goal for the 2005 Illini. Three talented goalkeepers will compete to replace four-year starter and All-American Leisha Alcia.
Senior Rachel Frank missed most of the spring with a knee injury but still has the years of experience and great technical ability on her side. Lindsey Carstens returns following a tremendous spring where she gained confidence and valuable collegiate experience. Newcomer Danielle Wagner has height and great hands. Despite the uncertainty, Rayfield is confident that Alcia's replacement will be more than capable. "I am not sure who will win the starting spot but I know that whoever does will have to be great," she said. "The constant competition among three talented goalkeepers will produce not just a great goalkeeper but also one ready for the heat of battle."