#18 Illinois Women's Soccer 2012 Preview

Illinois Fighting Illini

Overall Rank: #18
Conference Rank: #2 Big Ten
Illinois Women's College Soccer 2012 Team Preview
Illinois Team Page


Coach Janet Rayfield just keeps raising the bar for Illinois. After ten years, the Fighting Illini have turned into one of the most consistent programs in the nation. The 2011 campaign saw another solid year in the Big Ten and a team that was virtually unbeatable at home. The good times continued into the NCAA Tournament for a little while. Illinois knocked off Notre Dame before falling to the regionally second-seeded Cowgirls of Oklahoma State. A trip to the round of 32 should happen again, but this is a team that can make it to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.

2011 Record: 17-5-2, 8-2-1
2011 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Janet Rayfield

Illinois rarely struggled to score goals during the 2011 campaign, ranking 26th in the nation with 2.26 goals per game. That should not change this year. Midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo netted 17 goals during her sophomore season, including eight game winners. DiBernardo will take a lot of shots and score a lot of goals, but she is an apt passer as well. With a slew of strikers returning, DiBernardo will share the wealth. Niki Read may be the best passer on the team and recorded seven assists, but she is a fine finisher as well. Megan Pawloski added six goals, Shayla Mutz scored three and Jannelle Flaws also finished the season with three goals. Marissa Holden is another quality striker who will have to battle for playing time. In just 445 minutes of play in 2011, Holden tallied three assists. Illinois might miss Marissa Mykines and her eight goals and three assists for a little while, but there is more than enough talent to pick up the slack. With freshman Nicole Breece in the mix as well, this team will have very little trouble putting the ball in the back of the net.

But the question now is how many times Illinois will need to score to win games. The defense was not bad in 2011, but there is a lot of turnover in the backline. Defenders Julie Ewing, Jenna Carosio, Stephanie Pouse and Caitlin Dombart are all gone, as is defensive midfielder Jackie Guerra. Kassidy Brown started 21 games last year and Christian Farrell has starting experience, but missed much of the 2011 campaign with an injury. Those two will have to be the leaders in the back. The defense will have to rely heavily on freshmen. Taylore Peterson can help fill the defensive need in midfield and could make a big impact right away. Amy Feher, Shannon Roche and Aliina Weykamp will be thrown into the mix in the back.

Final Projection:
While the defense reshuffles a little bit, there is a familiar face in the net. Keeper Steph Panozzo allowed just 24 goals in 24 games during the 2011 campaign and is back for her senior campaign. The 2011 season was Panozzo’s first as a full-time starter and the British Columbia native did a superb job. She has international experience at the U-20 level and will be a steadying force for the defense. Yet, the defense still needs to make things somewhat difficult for the opposing attackers. Panozzo can only do so much and Coach Rayfield needs to find quality replacements for all of the lost defenders. Even if Illinois allows more goals than they did last year, they will still compete for a Big Ten title thanks to the scoring prowess of DiBernardo and company.

Projected Postseason: NCAA Tournament

Returning Leaders:
Goals: Vanessa DiBernardo, Junior, M, 17
Assists: Niki Reed, Senior, F, 7
Shots: Vanessa DiBernardo, Junior, M, 102
Saves: Steph Panozzo, Senior, GK, 75

Madness 2012 Women’s Soccer Recruit Rankings:
#26 Taylore Peterson
#57 Nicole Breece