Maryland women’s soccer is set to conclude a six-game homestand as it takes on Illinois this Thursday at 7 p.m. at Ludwig Field in College Park.
The Terps are coming off their biggest win in recent memory Sunday, as they upset reigning Big Ten champion Michigan.
Coming into the game without a conference win in the last two-plus seasons, Maryland played its best game of 2022 — from the first whistle to the last — eventually securing the monumental 1-0 victory.
With the score knotted at zero halfway through the second half, junior midfielder Juliana Lynch sent a sky-high pass into the box which found the head of sixth-year graduate attacker Mikayla Dayes.
Dayes made no mistake and launched the ball into the top corner of the net.
The Terps boxed in defensively thereafter and eventually earned a victory in front of a packed Ludwig Field.
“A win like this is everything,” Dayes said after the game.
Now, with that Big Ten win under their belt, the 2-1-5 Terps will look to improve to 2-0 in the conference with their pending matchup against Illinois.
Illinois Fighting Illini (5-3-1, 0-1 Big Ten)
2021 record: 5-11-1 (1-8-1 Big Ten)
The Fighting Illini have been a middle of the pack team in the Big Ten for some time now, but they are coming off a disastrous year. Last season seems to be an anomaly to this point, though, as they are off to a much better start.
Prior to last season — led by head coach Janet Rayfield, who is now in her 21st season — they had three straight Big Ten seasons of a .500 or better record.
Illinois finished nonconference play this year at 5-2-1, which was its best record in the slate since 2019. Its early season success was highlighted by a 1-0 win against then-No. 17 Butler.
Illinois saw its biggest falter last Sunday, as it started Big Ten play with a tough 3-0 defeat to Michigan State (6-1-2).
The Illini brought back 24 players from last year, who are trying to turn the program back into the postseason-bound group they have been in years past.
Players to know
Kendra Pasquale, redshirt senior midfielder, No. 12 — Leading the offense from the midfield, the third-year starter had a list of accomplishments entering this season. She was the team and offensive MVP in her sophomore season and also logged honors as a Third Team All-Big Ten selection. She’s continued to lead the offense through this season, as she leads the team in both goals and assists.
Eileen Murphy, senior defender, No. 3 — Murphy has started on the Illini’s backline for all four years of her collegiate career and heads it this season. Starting in each game this season and logging the most minutes of any outfield player, the five-foot-nine center back is one that will certainly be a worthy opponent for Maryland’s offense.
Julia Cili, junior goalkeeper, No. 1 — Cili has been handed an immense workload this season, facing 56 shots on goal through nine games. Her 44 saves are good enough for a 1.33 goals-against average, and she has needed to make four saves or more in six of nine games. Against Notre Dame on Aug. 28, she set a career high with 13 stops.
Road play. The Illini have fared much better away from home than they have in Champaign for a few seasons now. They’ve only played two games away this season, but that included an upset against Baylor. In the past two seasons, their away record was 7-7-1, compared to 4-9-1 at home.
A long conference drought. Just like Maryland — until the Terps upset Michigan last Sunday — Illinois is in the midst of a rough stretch in Big Ten play. While the Terps finished second-to-last in the Big Ten last year, the Illini ended at the bottom of the table. Their last conference win came last October against Maryland, but they’ve lost six straight since and have just one conference win in their last 11 contests.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland keep up its elite defense? Through eight games, it’s been a defensive masterclass from the Terps. Nemzer came in as a defensive-minded coach, and it has shown. The Terps haven’t allowed more than one goal in a game and have three clean sheets. If they are able to record two consecutive shutouts to begin Big Ten play, it would be a massive accomplishment for a team that’s allowed goals in conference play at will the past two seasons.
2. Maryland’s schedule heats up. Following Thursday’s game, Nemzer will take her squad to New Jersey on Sunday to face off against her former team — Rutgers. The No. 4 Scarlet Knights are 9-0 to start the season. Things wont get easier as the Terps then head out to face Wisconsin, who is ranked No. 24 in the RPI.
3. This is a historically competitive matchup. In their seven meetings since Maryland joined the conference, both teams have three wins after their initial meeting resulted in a 1-1 tie. The Illini took last year’s matchup, 2-1, but the Terps will look for revenge and tip the scale back in their favor.