Sept. 18, 2011
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Head Coach Ron Rainey and the University of Iowa women’s soccer team opened Big Ten play Sunday afternoon, ready to prove that the perfect 8-0 non-conference record wasn’t a fluke. Even though the result was a draw against nationally-ranked Illinois, Rainey and his squad made a statement.
The Hawkeyes jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first half against the 23rd-ranked Fighting Illini, thanks to goals by Alex Melin (10th minute) and Cloe Lacasse (13th minute). Iowa let the lead slip in the final 25 minutes of regulation, eventually coming away with a 2-2, double-overtime draw to earn its first point in Big Ten play.
Rainey was pleased with the efforts of his team, but knew Illinois wouldn’t give in when the second half came around.
“You couldn’t have scripted a much better first half,” Rainey said. “Sometimes you have to give credit to the other team and Illinois’ two goals were pretty good.”
Last season, Iowa struggled in matches like the one that unfolded Sunday at the Iowa Soccer Complex. Rainey was proud of the way his team battled after Illinois showed why they are nationally ranked.
“Last year, something different might have happened in a game like this,” Rainey said. “But we fought today. We got chances back and then steadied ourselves in extra time to preserve the draw.”
Iowa withstood an early attack by Illinois in the first 10 minutes before a set piece worked to perfection on the first goal. The Hawkeyes dominated much of the first half and the opening 20 minutes of the second half, holding possession and creating chances almost at will.
One couldn’t help but notice the play of Melin in the Hawkeye midfield. The sophomore from Verona, Wis., scored Iowa’s first goal and rocketed a shot from distance in the 13th minute that hit the woodwork, but fell right to Lacasse for the second goal.
It wasn’t Melin’s offensive efforts, however, that stood out. In a very physical Big Ten game, Melin could be seen winning 50-50 balls in midfield, gaining possession in Iowa’s defensive third and directing the team through the entire game. She started the match and played all but the final five minutes of the 120-minute, double-overtime match, when Anne Marie Thomas replaced her after she had a small muscle cramp.
“Alex is our engine,” Rainey said. “She works and goes as hard as she possibly can. We talk to the players about how they should feel, physically, after a game. You should come off almost having to drag yourself off the field. Alex does that every single day, whether it’s in practice, during warm-ups or in games. That’s awesome to see.”
“Last year, something different might have happened in a game like this. But we fought today. We got chances back and then steadied ourselves in extra time to preserve the draw.”
Melin was more than happy to play in a physical match to open conference play.
“Character-wise, I think our team likes a game with this type of style,” Melin said. “We don’t mind playing physical at all.”
Melin enjoys her midfield role and quickly took to the pace of Sunday’s game.
“We had to come out scrappy and really work hard to get to the ball,” Melin said. “Everyone really put in a good effort today.”
Rainey has Melin in the starting lineup because of her versatility, which was on display against the Fighting Illini.
“She’s just not a junkyard dog,” Rainey said. “Alex has some flare to her game and she can score goals or get some assists.”
Rainey, Melin and the Hawkeyes gave a top-25 team a run for their money Sunday after dominating opponents during their eight-game winning streak. Iowa, still undefeated at 8-0-1, now turns its focus to getting three points out of a close match instead of just one.
Even though a draw isn’t the flashiest result, Rainey was pleased to get the point.
“Illinois is a legitimate top-20 team,” Rainey said. “There were big stretches when we played right with them. Overall, this is about as close as you could get to the best start we could ask for in the Big Ten.”