NORMAL, Ill. - In a battle between conference tournament winners and 2011 NCAA Tournament participants, the No. 19 ranked University of Illinois soccer team (1-0-1) and Illinois State (1-0-1) finished in 1-1 draw. Freshman Nicole Breece tallied the Illini's lone goal in the first half as Niki Read picked up her first assist on the year.
Illinois applied the pressure early and often. In the first half, the Fighting Illini outshot the Redbirds 15-7, led 7-2 in shots on goal, and had a 3-1 corner kick advantage.
In the opening minutes, the Orange and Blue kept Redbirds goalie Aryn Newsom busy and had several close calls. Newsom had to fully extend to make the save on Kristen Gierman's first shot, then minutes later, the senior captain placed a header on goal, only to be saved by Newsom again. At the 17 minute mark, Nicole Denenberg found Marissa Holden who struck a left foot shot just over the crossbar.
However, it was Illinois State who got on the scoreboard first. In the 24th minute, Rachel Tejada was tripped from behind in the Illinois box and was awarded a penalty kick. Illini goalkeeper Steph Panozzo could not come up with the save as she dove to her left, as Tejada scored by placing the ball in the right side of the net. Tejada's tally was her third goal in two games.
Illinois did not let the goal faze them, responding with a goal of their own just five minutes later. Niki Read, who led the team with seven assists in 2011, recorded her first on the year when she sent a beautiful cross from deep in the corner. Breece settled and delivered her first collegiate goal to tie the game at one.
The Orange and Blue continued the offensive pressure, nearly taking the lead before halftime. On a cross from Breece, Megan Pawloski recorded a shot on goal, with Newsom making yet another diving save. With less than a minute left, Niki Read produced a shot that sailed just one foot over the crossbar.
The offensive surge slowed in the second half as the game turned to a back and forth possession battle with the Illini defense highlighting the period. The backline of Tailor Smith, Kassidy Brown, Christina Farrell and Shayla Mutz shut down Rachel Tejada, who was the third-leading goal scorer in the nation in 2011. Illinois outshot the Redbirds 6-4 in the second half but could not find the back of the net; thus, the Orange and Blue played their first overtime game on the young season.
"The back four put in another solid performance today as they continue to grow as a unit. Rachel Tejada is a great goal scorer and we did a good job of containing her," said interim head coach Jeff Freeman.
Last year, the Fighting Illini were 4-0-2 in overtime games but could not find the winning result today. After the first overtime netted no result, Redbird Rachel Tejada threatened early in the second. The sophomore finally broke through the Illini defense, but Panozzo did a great job taking the angle away as she made the save.
Illinois then responded by threatening to end the game as well with some near misses by Read and Brown whose shots went just high and wide left respectively. Finally, in the closing minutes, Marissa Holden dribbled past a couple of Redbird defenders near the top of the Illlinois State box and struck a shot on goal. Newsom bobbled the save and Holden nearly beat the keeper to the rebound. With either squad unable to net the golden goal, the game ended in a tie.
"The chemistry offensively was much better today than friday. We had a few opportunities to end the game early and was disappointed that we didn't take advantage. I was happy we were able to fight back and score right away after the penalty kick. Read sent a great ball into the box and Breece did a fantasic job of finishing," said Freeman. " We had several moments throughout the game of true intensity and we need to be at that level for 90 minutes, or in today's case, 110 minutes."
Illinois concluded the match with 26 shots, 11 on goal, compared to Illinois State's 17 shots with 4 on goal. Furthermore, both squads finished with five corner kicks apiece. Also to note, Kristen Gierman was booked with a yellow card in the 59th minute. The overall series between these two schools moves to 6-2-2 in favor of the Illini.
The No. 19 ranked Illinois squad continues their road series with two games in California next weekend. First, the Illini clash with UC Santa Barbara on Aug. 24 at 9 p.m. CT, then travel to Los Angeles on Sunday, Aug. 26, to battle No. 6 UCLA at 2 p.m. CT.