CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - On a cold and wet day at the Illinois Soccer and Track Stadium, the visiting Northwestern Wildcats upset the Fighting Illini 2-1. Vanessa DiBernardo converted the lone Illini strike on a first half penalty kick, but Northwestern converted two goals in the final nine minutes of play to rob a game late in Champaign.
"The weather wasn't great but both teams had to play in it," said Illinois head coach Janet Rayfield. "I think we let it affect us as we dropped off way too far in the first half with the wind and the rain in our face. With the ball skipping around the way it did it definitely affected our confidence. We started out this season settled and knocking the ball around and we've lost that. Certainly the weather played a factor but the thing about a mentally tough team is they don't let things like that affect them. This team has to find that."
Illinois came out swinging, recording shots from DiBernardo, Megan Pawloski, and Nicole Denenberg in the first 12 minutes. Then, in the 17th-minute, Pawloski drew a penalty kick after being knocked down from behind in the Northwestern box. DiBernardo accepted the challenge and placed a low shot into the corner for an early 1-0 lead.
Illinois continued to pour on shots in the second period, 20 to be exact, but could not place many shots on goal and extend the lead. In addition, the second half featured very close near misses from Niki Read, Reagan Robishaw and Nicole Breece.
In the final 10 minutes, the momentum shifted to the Wildcats favor. In the 81st-minute, Georgia Waddle broke through the Illini defense and placed a shot on goal. The ball deflected off of Panozzo and rolled towards the net. An Illini defender tried to clear, but it was too late as the attempted clearance went into the inside corner of the goal to tie the game at one.
Illinois tried to rally recording six shots and a corner kick all within the next four minutes but it was a hand ball by an Illinois player inside their own box with four seconds remaining that proved the difference maker. A call that had been heavily disputed multiple times by both coaches throughout the length of the match. Kate Allen stepped up for the Wildcats and delivered her seventh goal of the season and second game-winner.
With the loss, Illinois drops to 7-7-2 overall and 4-4-1 in conference competition. Meanwhile, the Wildcats earn their first win in Big Ten play, now at 1-8-0, and jump to 5-10-2 overall. Northwestern also achieved their first ever victory in Champaign.
"We are scrapping to get into the Big Ten Tournament now," continues Rayfield. "We're just trying to extend our season at this point. It's tight in the Big Ten race right now and that's what we have to look at. We have to look at one win at a time and hope that two wins will get us into the Big Ten Tournament. We can only control the things that we do and that's stepping out on Sunday and trying to get a win against Nebraska and that's no easy task."
Tonight, Illinois produced a season high 31 shots and put seven on goal. Northwestern tallied 14 shots with half of their strikes on goal. Also both squads finished with two corner kicks.
Steph Panozzo concluded the evening with five saves, brining her season total to 71, four shy of last year's mark. Nicole Breece led the Orange and Blue in shots with seven, followed by DiBernardo and Read with six each.
Despite the loss, Vanessa DiBernardo once again moved up in the Illinois record books with her performance tonight. The junior now owns the top spot in the program's history for most career shots taken in Big Ten play with 144, passing the former record holder in Tara Hurless (141 shots). Furthermore, DiBernardo continues to break the record for most shots taken in Big Ten play in a season. After this evening, the Naperville native has 59 shots, surpassing the record of 43 set by herself in 2010.
Next up, the Illini have their final home game of the regular season when they host Nebraska on Sunday, Oct. 21, at 12 p.m. CT. The game also marks Senior Day in which Shayla Mutz, Nicole Denenberg, Niki Read, Marissa Holden and Steph Panozzo will be recognized before the match.