CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (UI Release) - University of Illinois soccer and head coach Janet Rayfield announced a difficult slate of competition for the 2012 season, including contests against seven NCAA Tournament participants from one year ago and six more teams that made appearances in their postseason conference playoffs. Additionally, five opponents on the 2012 schedule finished last season within the NCAA Top-25 rankings, including No. 4 Wake Forest, No. 7 UCLA, No. 8 Penn State, No. 22 Virginia Tech and No. 23 Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
"Thanks to the diligence and persistence of my staff, we have a schedule that will challenge this team, prepare them and provide them the opportunity to carve their place in postseason brackets," Rayfield said. "We are getting outside of our region and testingourselves against the best and I think that has proven to be a recipe for postseason success. I am also confident that this team and this staff are already preparing for and are excited to embrace the challenge."
The Orange and Blue will be challenged immediately with contests against Western Michigan, which reached the 2011 MAC Tournament Championship, and Illinois State, the MVC Tournament Title winner and NCAA First Round participant a season ago, to open fall competition on Aug. 17 and 19, respectively.
The treacherous non-conference schedule continues the following week with contests at UC Santa Barbara and Pac-12 favorite and 2011 NCAA Second Round competitor UCLA, the first of four consecutive opponents who finished last year among the top-25 teams in the nation according to the NSCAA.
Illinois returns to the Midwest to face Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the 2011 Horizon LeagueTournament Champions and NCAA Second Round contestant before heading to theWake Forest Invitational to conclude non-conference competition.
While at Wake Forest, the Illini will battle the Demon Deacons, who reached the NCAAFinal Four last season, on Sept. 7 to begin tournament action. Virginia Tech, which reached the NCAA Tournament Round of 16, will serve as the second opponent at the invitational.
The schedule will not ease up once the Orange and Blue begin conference play. After opening with Iowa, a team that finished 13-4-3 overall last season, the Illini host 2011 NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen participants Ohio State and Penn State, during the Sept. 21-23 weekend.
Following a trip to Indiana and Purdue, Illinois faces four consecutive 2011 Big Ten Tournament teams in Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Northwestern before hosting Nebraska and concluding the regular season at Michigan, a program the Illini eliminated from postseason contention last year.
The 2012 edition of the Big Ten Tournament will be hosted in Bloomington, Ind., at Indiana University from Oct. 31 through Nov. 4, while the NCAA College Cup will occur at the University of San Diego's Torero Stadium from Nov. 30 through Dec. 2.