CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (UI Release) - Illinois struck first, but No. 16 Notre Dame netted the final three goals to spoil the season and home opener at the Illinois Soccer Stadium. Freshman Abby Elinsky scored the first goal of the year in the 23rd minute, but the Fighting Irish scored twice in the final six minutes in the first half and added another in the second stanza.
"I'm really proud of the way we battled today," head coach Janet Rayfield said. "The things that we gave up, especially ones that affected the scoreboard, were things that we had control over, things that we can make better in a pretty short amount of time. I told this team I'm optimistic based on what I saw today. This team is going to get better.
"There are some young pieces of the equation out there that are going to improve. It wasn't a positive result if you look at wins and losses, but it was a positive outcome in that we learned a lot about our team today, and we'll make this team better almost instantly with some of the things we can do."
Notre Dame controlled the action with five unanswered shots in the opening 21 minutes, while the Illini lit up the scoreboard on their first opportunity in the box. Sophomore Hope D'Addario served a corner kick to the far post where senior Jannelle Flaws headed it to the center for Elinsky to volley it in for a 1-0 lead.
"It was a corner where we were looking to go far post and that's what a savvy player like Jannelle does," Rayfield said. "Some young players would try to score that ball even though they're far outside the far post, but she had the savvy to drive that ball across the box. Abby is a fighter on both ends of the field and she's been a forward, so she's no stranger to being in the attacking box. It was certainly great for her to get that first goal.
"Her scrappiness is something that we'll use to our advantage. We threw her up front at the end of the game to try to get something because of that scrappiness and her willingness to throw her body at things and score goals. I'm sure that's not the last time we'll see her in our attacking box."
The Fighting Irish connected on the equalizer in the 40th minute when Taylor Klawunder received a pass from Morgan Andrews and fired a shot from the top-right corner of the box into the left corner. Just over two minutes later, Katie Naughton scored off a corner kick from Brittany Von Rueden, giving ND a 2-1 advantage heading into halftime.
Sophomore Michelle Denley started the game, making her Illini debut and finishing with five saves in the first half. Sophomore Claire Wheatley took over in the second half and played the remainder of the game, registering one save and giving up one goal in the 75th minute on a breakaway by Anna Gilbertson.
"There is a battle for the keeper position, and they both showed some strengths," Rayfield said. "Michelle's decision-making was fantastic. She made a great save down low and certainly didn't expose us while also organizing the defense. Claire did equally as good of a job, making a save and covering that one to the bar. They have different strengths but they can both be incredible goalkeepers, so we'll see what we decide to do on Sunday and then the next week of training will be really important for that battle."
Notre Dame held the edge in shots (12-6) and corner kicks (5-3) over Illinois while also committing 15 fouls compared to 11 by the Illini. Flaws and Elinsky each took two shots, while junior Nicole Breece and freshman Kara Marbury each notched one shot.
Up Next: Illinois will welcome Louisville to the Illinois Soccer Stadium on Sunday at 1 p.m. for its second game of the season.