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Iowa soccer begins run for first Big Ten title at Illinois

BY TOM CLOS | SEPTEMBER 14, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa women’s soccer team has been here before.

The team got off to the best start in school history last season, winning all eight nonconference matches and rolling into the Big Ten opener against Illinois. The Hawkeyes looked poised to challenge for its first-ever conference title.

Last year’s winning-streak ended with a 2-2 draw that day, and Iowa eventually finished sixth in the Big Ten with a 5-4-2 record.

Fast forward one year, and the Hawkeyes are in a nearly identical situation.

The 2012 squad has claimed the best start in school history with a 9-0-0 beginning, emerging unscathed through nonconference action. Once again, the Black and Gold will kick off Big Ten play against the Illini. Iowa is the only unbeaten team remaining in the conference.

So how do the Hawkeyes avoid a repeat of 2011 and take the step toward a league title?

Iowa head coach Ron Rainey felt he knew the answer. He said that his squad must use the experience of last season’s swoon as a springboard to greater rewards this year.

“We know that playing against 11 straight Big Ten teams is going to stretch us and expose us a little bit,” Rainey said. “But we also have some things that we’ve done well that we have to go back to, which should be our characteristic for the rest of season.”

Sophomore forward Cloe Lacasse thinks this year’s team is better equipped than its predecessor. She pointed out that going through last season has made this edition a little older and a little wiser.

“Last year’s team was very young, and we didn’t really know what to expect in the Big Ten,” Lacasse said. “Now this year, we have a lot of players who have that experience we needed.”

Junior forward Ashley Catrell agreed. The Kansas native said there is more of a family-like atmosphere to the 2012 roster, and she hopes this will help them surpass last season’s historic run.

“This year, we are much closer as a team,” Catrell said. “We have a lot more communication on the field, and it will help us get better in the Big Ten.”

Rainey sensed his team has been ready to get conference action rolling for a little while but said his squad still had a long way to go from being where they want to be at the end of the regular season.

“The team is fired up for conference play, but we can’t skip steps,” he said. “We’ve now played for a month and we know what we do well, but we have to keep getting reps in practice to be a better team.”

Illinois (3-3-1) entered 2012 ranked No. 19 in the nation but limped out of the gate, and it has since dropped out of the polls. The side has lost two-straight games and three of the last four, including back-to-back shutout losses to Virginia Tech and Wake Forest last weekend.

The Illini will get a big boost to their lineup when head coach Janet Rayfield and junior midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo return to campus on Sept. 16 after being with the U-20 USA team for the past few months. DiBernardo was the team’s leading scorer last season en route to becoming a first-team All-Big Ten selection and named the conference’s Midfielder of the Year.

“We’re doing really well and have a lot of confidence, but we know Illinois is an awesome opponent,” Rainey said. “They’re especially incredible at their own field, and we’ll have to play our best game of the year to find a good result.”

The Hawkeyes accomplished a lot last season, winning the most games in program history, subsequently raising expectations for 2012. They are expectations the head coach knows his team can reach with the right preparation.

 “You play 11 games, and then you see how you’ve done, and last year we had an incredible season,” Rainey said. “But we have to get better.”


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