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Limping Spartans leave for unfriendly Illinois confines

October 29, 2009

Illinois Soccer and Track Stadium has been a difficult place to play for the MSU women’s soccer team.

In seven trips to Champaign, the Spartans are 1-5-1, with their only win coming on their first trip back in 1997.

Since that win, it’s been a decade-long struggle for the Spartans, whose latest road loss to the Fighting Illini came just last season, a 3-0 defeat.

“We’ve never played well in Champaign, to be honest with you,” head coach Tom Saxton said.

“It’s a smaller field, it’s usually really windy and it’s just not a place we’ve been really comfortable in there with our style. This is a great opportunity for us to turn that around, but we’ll have to be good on the day, that’s for sure.”

Both the Spartans (9-3-4 overall, 2-3-2 Big Ten) and Illini (6-7-3, 1-5-2) come into today’s 8 p.m. match looking to end their seasons on a good note.

Although the Spartans are coming off a 2-1 comeback win against Minnesota Oct. 25, injuries have continued to hit their lineup.

Already down three midfielders, MSU also lost sophomore forward Laura Heyboer for the season when she broke her left tibia while scoring the game-winning goal against the Golden Gophers.

While the Spartans come to Champaign on a one-game winning streak, the Illini are reeling from two lop-sided losses against the conference’s top two teams. The Illini were outscored 9-0 at the hands of Penn State and Ohio State.

Regardless of those defeats — and the fact that Illinois is tied for ninth in the conference (MSU is tied for seventh) — Saxton said he expects today’s game to be another tough one in the series.

“I just think they’re having a rough stretch, as well,” Saxton said. “Their goalkeeper had a bad day and they’re probably reeling because they gave up nine goals in two games and didn’t score any. But I know that they’ve got a quality program with quality players and them coming home in kind of a desperate situation will be a very difficult challenge for us.”

After Friday’s match, the Spartans travel to Iowa City, Iowa, to face the Hawkeyes (8-9-0, 0-7-0) at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Saxton said Tuesday he hadn’t even thought about the Hawkeyes, and probably wouldn’t watch too much film on them until Saturday.

And with a game in an unfriendly environment Friday, it’s important for the Spartans to focus on what they need to do, senior forward Lauren Hill said.

“Their fans are always all over the place and their players are always hard workers,” Hill said.

“We just have to keep our heads and stay positive and know that we are capable of winning and that we can do it.”

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