CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The MSU womens soccer team fell 3-1 to Illinois on Thursday in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament.
The fourth-seeded Spartans only managed to score one second-half goal while giving up three second-half goals to the fifth-seeded Fighting Illini.
Despite playing well in the first half, the Spartans were lucky to come out of the first half alive, dodging nine Illini scoring chances compared to three of their own.
Both teams struggled offensively for the first 56 minutes of the game while looking to score the first goal. Each team became more urgent to score as it traded missed opportunities.
Illinois finally took advantage of an opportunity at the 56:09 mark when midfielder Emily Brown scored the first goal of the game - opening the offensive flood gates for both teams.
Ilini head coach Tricia Taliaferro said it is important to get the first goal in a big game like this, because it can open up your offense.
I think it (the first goal) was just being able to not be frustrated after we created some chances that we missed early, Taliaferro said. To put that one (goal) away helped us gain some momentum. It helped build our confidence because the ball was going to go into the net at some point.
The Spartans responded 46 seconds later when freshman forward Trisha Kenny had a breakaway scoring opportunity, but Illini goalkeeper Sarah Anderson broke the play up by knocking the ball out of bounds. The play resulted in a MSU corner kick.
On the corner kick, MSU senior midfielder Gina Dawson scored a goal while trying to pass to a teammate. The ball crossed the goal line seconds before Anderson reached it.
I was actually just trying to get (the ball) into the mix, and somehow it just bent in the goal, Dawson said. Tiffany (Laskowski) did a good job of screening the keeper, and it just went in.
MSU head coach Tom Saxton said he was not even sure the Spartans scored during the play.
We talked about putting pressure on (Illinois), and things like that will happen if you put them under pressure, Saxton said. They kept us under pressure a little more in the second half, and I think that was the story.
The Illini regrouped and continued attacking, scoring minutes later at the 61:11 mark. Illinois added another goal at the 71:57 mark when Brown, Illinois all-time leading scorer, had her second goal of the game.
Dawson said MSU put together a great effort despite the loss.
I think we played really well and did everything we could, Dawson said. They just had a couple really nice goals, and we didnt put the ball in the net.
Although the Spartans (12-6-2) finished the season with a loss, Saxton said the postseason experience will benefit the younger players.
(The freshmen are) proud of some of the success theyve had (this season), Saxton said. They understand they can play at this level and they need to carry that over to the next year.
Kenny said she never got nervous before regular season games but did get nervous before the tournament game.
Its a lot different, its a lot harder and everyone goes for every ball, Kenny said. If we could play like this more during the season, it would help us so much because everyone seems to give more during these (tournament) games since they know theres no tomorrow if we lose.
Freshman goalkeeper Stacy Heller was forced to start against Illinois since senior co-captain Sara Kloosterman suffered a season-ending injury Oct. 27 against Penn State.
Kloosterman, bearing crutches on the sidelines, said Hellers play was outstanding throughout the game.
Heller played amazingly, said Kloosterman, who finished second in the Big Ten in shutouts with 7.5. We wouldve lost the game 10 to one if it wasnt for her. She came ready to play.
Kloosterman, who will be a MSU goalkeeper coach next season, said even though the team was unable to make a run in the tournament, she still had an enjoyable season. The Spartans won five of their last eight regular season games.
This season has been the best, Kloosterman said. From freshman year to sophomore year to junior year this just caps it off. It was a bad way to lose but it was a good finish.