CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (UI Release) - The University of Illinois soccer team (1-0) utilized an effective mixture of talented youth and experienced veterans, as they claimed the season opener on Friday evening, 1-0, over the visiting Western Michigan Broncos (0-1). Kassidy Brown's successful penalty kick, along with an Illini defense that would not budge, bolstered the Orange and Blue to victory.
"There was a lot of small things that we didn't do well tonight that caused us to be back on our heels quite a bit," Illini interim head coach Jeff Freeman said. "We've got to have a better mentality. We've got to represent the University of Illinois and our soccer program a lot better than what we did tonight."
The first half was a battle for possession with few chances for both squads. The Illini almost put the ball in the back of the net early on when Niki Read sent a through ball down the middle through the Broncos defense. Freshmen Nicole Breece then took a one-touch shot near the top of the visitor's 18-yard box, but the ball sailed right to the goalie. Yet, Western Michigan pressured the Illinois squad right back and eventually took a 8-5 shot lead heading into a scoreless halftime.
The Fighting Illini started the second period strong. Immediately, Illini midfielder Nicole Denenberg chipped a ball down the left line into the defensive third of Western Michigan with Breece giving chase. After a blocked cross attempted by Breece, the freshman collected the rebound and took on the defender, who tripped Breece in an attempt to slow her down. The result was a penalty kick for Illinois.
With just four and a half minutes passed in the second half, junior Kassidy Brown struck the penalty to the upper right portion of the goal. Broncos goalie Michelle Watson got a hand on it, but the shot was delivered with too much pace as the Ilini got on the board and took a 1-0 advantage. The penalty was Brown's first career goal.
Illinois senior goalkeeper Steph Panozzo produced a fantastic performance in tonight's win. With 27 minutes remaining in the game, Western Michigan's Rachel Chaney received the ball off of a deflected Illinois clearance just inside the Illini box. Chaney instantly turned and shot, but Panozzo, standing just a few yards away, delivered a point-blank save extending to her right to keep the Broncos off the board.
With under 20 minutes left to play, the Illini defense held strong and stymied the relentless Broncos attack. Western Michigan had three corner kicks within a five minute span, but the Orange and Blue denied each one. Finally, with nine minutes remaining, Steph Panozzo performed another nail-biting save when Western Michigan's Aubrey Sudomier struck a dipping ball from 25 yards out. Timing her jump perfectly, Panozzo was able to punch the ball over the crossbar for the save.
"Steph Panozzo is fantastic," Freeman said. "She started off this year right where she left off last year, and she's certainly going to hold us together back there."
The Illini earned the ever-important statistic that is the victory, but the Broncos did outshoot the Orange and Blue 20-9 and had an 8-3 advantage on corner kicks. Panozzo recorded eight total saves on the night, earning the shutout. Niki Read and Nicole Breece led the squad with three shots a piece with Brown and Megan Pawloski tallying two and one, respectively.
The Orange and Blue return to action Sunday, Aug. 19, when they travel to Normal, Ill., to battle Illinois State at 1 p.m. at Adelaide Street Field.