Soccer's matchup with Illinois seen as a statement game


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The Iowa women's soccer team started the 2010 season 7-2-0 in the nonconference schedule.

However, the winning didn't continue when the team began Big Ten play; Iowa stumbled to a 1-7-2 record in conference games and finished last in the standings.

After securing a 2-0 victory Wednesday night against Northern Iowa, the Hawkeyes have begun the 2011 campaign with a spotless 8-0-0 record.

The squad's first league test is on Sept. 18 against No. 23 Illinois in the Iowa Soccer Complex.

The Hawkeyes said they remember how they fared in the Big Ten last year, and they want to show Illinois that this year's start is no aberration.

"Everyone's getting excited to play, and it will be a good test for us to make a statement," senior defender Morgan Showalter said. "We did so well last year [in nonconference games]. I think everyone else understands that, and they want to prove in our first game that we can hold ourselves in the Big Ten."

Last season, Iowa traveled to Champaign, Ill., and gave the Fighting Illini all they could handle. It wasn't enough, however, and the Hawkeyes ended up losing the game in overtime, 2-1 — despite scoring first on a goal by then-sophomore Gabrielle Ainsworth.

"Last year, we played them in a sold game — we were ahead most of the game and just couldn't close it out," Showalter said. "Being on our home field will be an advantage for us, because we know how it plays, and we have our crowd behind us."

The Illini have gone 6-2-1 in nonconference play and have scored 33 goals on the season.

After Wednesday night's victory, the Hawkeyes offense has also been nearly as effective with 29 goals thus far — only three fewer than they scored all last year.

The makeup of the 2011 Hawkeyes has changed since last season. They welcomed 10 newcomers to the team this year, and three of them have played key roles in Iowa's success.

Freshman Cloé Lacasse is the two-time reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week after leading the squad in goals (nine) and points (21) and dishing out three assists.

Fellow newcomers Melanie Pickert and Katie Brown are the two center-backs in a Hawkeye defense that has only allowed five goals on the year and has helped senior goalkeeper Emily Moran record three shutouts.

"I like how our defense is connecting really well," Moran said. "We're all positive with each other on and off the field. All of us are looking for ways to be better all over the field and not just our positions."

The Big Ten is known for being a competitive league that features many big, strong athletes, Iowa head coach Ron Rainey said.

Team speed is also expected to be faster in conference play, but the Hawkeyes aren't worried about that now. Rainey's squad wants to play a complete 90 minutes against Illinois and show it's no longer the laughing stock of the conference, after going 35-79-13 against the Big Ten since the program began in 1997.

"Sunday is a chance for us to prove that we have improved as a team and are a very different team from last year," junior Dana Dalrymple said. "It's very important to us to see where we stand in the Big Ten."

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