Aug. 26, 2004
The Fighting Illini begin the 2004 season in great position to build off a breakout 2003 season that included a Big Ten Tournament Championship, a final ranking of 18th nationally, and a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The 2003 squad also made its mark in the record book, breaking school records for wins, consecutive wins, longest unbeaten streak, and shutouts just to name a few. The amazing accomplishments of the 2003 squad serve as a strong motivating factor for this season's team to continue on the path set for them and add to the tradition of Illinois Soccer. This season, the Illini return 14 letterwinners and nine starters, including two All-Americans in senior forward Tara Hurless and senior goalkeeper Leisha Alcia.
Hurless serves as the spark among the strikers. Her incredible speed and ability to take defenders one-on-one will prove to be trouble for the opposition again this season. With the addition of Bayne, Ridgeway, sophomores Eva Strickland and Brittany Ward, and newcomer Ella Masar, opponents will not have the ability to focus on one player in particular.
This season, the Illini will stick to the six front offensive scheme that was successful for them in 2003. Offensive success for Illinois will rely on their ability to spread production among the entire front line, a group that has the potential to be very dangerous.
The collective talent in this position will result in fierce competition for time on the field. Count on Faherty to set the standard as the playmaker and defensive organizer, but senior Gunville has a great shot and can provide an offensive threat from the midfield. Newcomer Kristy Weeks is expected to follow in the footsteps of Faherty and be another strong asset on both sides of the ball. Sinak will again set the standard as a ball-winning midfielder, but her talents will be complimented by juniors Redmond and Coninx. Sophomore Reynolds and newcomer Erin Pilkington will add valuable depth, making this Illini midfield talented and strong both offensively and defensively.
Although the Illini roster does not contain a senior defender, juniors Christen and Natasha Karniski, Big Ten Tournament Defensive MVP Kelly Campbell and sophomore Sarah Brown hold plenty of experience to keep the performance bar high. When sophomore Michelle Nadeau and sibling newcomers Shannon and Mary Therese McDonnell are added in the mix, the defensive unit is another position where the Illini boast valuable depth.
The Illini are fortunate to add newcomer Lindsay Carstens talents' to those of junior Rachel Frank. While the bulk of 2003's goalkeeping duties fell on the shoulders of Alcia, Frank has proven to be a very capable backup.
Kristy Weeks is another newcomer the Illini are thrilled to add to their roster. Weeks, a native of North Vancouver, British Columbia, comes to Illinois with extensive national team training experience as a member of the U-15, U-16, and U-17 Canadian teams from 2002 to 2003.
Mary Therese McDonnell, a native of Orland Park, Ill., is an instinctive defender who helped lead her club team to state and regional crowns, as well as a fourth place national finish in 2002. Shannon McDonnell, the sister of Mary Therese, is a sophomore who joined the Fighting Illini as a walk-on in the spring of 2004. Local product Ella Masar, a forward from Urbana, Ill., possesses great quickness that gives her an advantage at beating players to the ball.
Ohio natives Lindsay Carstens and Kara Gostisha look to enhance an already impressive Illini defensive unit at the goalkeeper and defender positions, respectively, while Utah product Erin Pilkington rounds out the class as an athletic midfielder adding more depth and versatility to the team.