Sept. 17, 2011
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — After matching last season’s victory total by sweeping eight nonconference games, the University of Iowa women’s soccer team opens the Big Ten Conference season at home Sunday against Illinois.
The Hawkeyes are 8-0 after finishing 8-9-3 in 2010; No. 23 Illinois is 6-2 a year removed from compiling a record of 13-5-1 and finishing fourth in the conference (6-3-1). Iowa received enough votes in the Sept. 13 National Soccer Coaches’ Association of America poll to place 33rd in the country.
“We know our biggest challenges are ahead of us,” UI head coach Ron Rainey said, moments removed from the Hawkeyes’ 2-0 win against Northern Iowa on Wednesday. “Illinois is one of the best teams in the conference year-in-and-year-out, so we’re excited to play them.”
Iowa breezed through its nonconference slate, outscoring eight foes by a combined 29-5 with three shutouts. No team scored more than one goal against goalkeeper Emily Moran, who has an 84.6 save percentage and a 0.56 goals against average.
“We know our biggest challenges are ahead of us. Illinois is one of the best teams in the conference year-in-and-year-out, so we’re excited to play them.”
“It’s been a good start for us, and I hope we gained confidence from those games,” Rainey said. “We can take moments from all these nonconference games and if we can roll that into 90 minutes, I think we can challenge Illinois.”
The Illini own an 11-5 edge in the all-time series, and they have won seven of the last eight meetings. Iowa posted a 1-0 victory in 2008 at the Iowa Soccer Complex.
“We have to be good technically, sound defensively, and we have to take care of chances when we get them,” Rainey said. “We’ll have to play by far our best game of the year.”
Illinois has thrived in second halves this season, scoring 19 of its 28 goals. Sophomore midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo leads the team with 19 points and four game-winners.
UI sophomore Leah DeMoss doubled her season goal total when she found the net twice against the Panthers on Wednesday. DeMoss, junior Dana Dalrymple and sophomores Katie Nasenbenny and Alex Melin all have eight points this season, which ties for second on the team behind freshman Cloe Lacasse, with 21.
“It’s going to be a lot faster, our passes have to be a lot better and our finishing has to be on, and I think we can do that,” said DeMoss on facing Illinois.
To both Rainey and DeMoss, the most recent box score doesn’t tell the whole story of the Hawkeyes’ progress since a 3-0 win at DePaul on Aug. 19.
“I feel a lot better about (the UNI game) even though it was just a two-goal game than (the South Dakota game on Sept. 11) which was a five-goal game,” Rainey said. “I felt we took away attacking chances, and we set the rhythm and tempo throughout most of the 90 minutes.”
“As a team, we played a lot better than our Sunday game,” DeMoss said. “We were kind of disappointed with our performance then, so we came out with a vengeance to win. As a team, things worked out better.”
After the first month of the season, Rainey has been impressed with more than just the UI record.
“I have liked our mentality in games,” he said. “When we had a game where we didn’t play as well as we could, we have come back and been better the next time out. That’s something we’ve talked about a lot this August and into September.”