Freshman goalkeeper Amy Annala (Oswego, Ill./Oswego) had a sensational Huskie debut on Friday evening in the 2014 season opener for the Northern Illinois University women’s soccer team at Illinois State.
Annala made several incredible stops in the first half and finished with 11 saves, but her efforts weren’t enough as the Huskies dropped the match to the Redbirds, 4-1.
“I thought Amy was outstanding in her regular season debut,” NIU head coach John Ross said. “She made some fantastic saves and really kept us in the game in the first half.”
In a match played in searing heat and humidity, both teams started quickly. Illinois State hit the crossbar in the opening minute; immediately at the other end, junior forward Nicole Gobbo was inches away from scoring the first goal of the season for NIU.
Then Annala made the first of her many tremendous saves, rushing out and blocking a shot on Illinois State’s three-time Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year Rachel Tejada.
But the Redbirds did take the lead not long after when Paige Jarsombeck opened the scoring for the home team after five minutes.
Carrying a constant offensive threat, Illinois State scored three more times in the first half.
Tejada, Jarsombeck and Ali Farkos goals in rapid succession gave the Redbirds a 4-0 advantage at halftime. The Huskies also had a few chances in the opening period, with the most notable coming when junior forward Maggie Renfro (Chaska, Minn./Holy Family Catholic) saw her powerful strike from 20 yards saved.
NIU improved greatly in the second half, pressing well and creating a few scoring opportunities while also holding the defending Missouri Valley Conference champion Redbirds at bay. Senior midfielder Ashley Neubeck (Lindenhurst, Ill./Lakes Community) scored for the Huskies from close range after some tricky wing play by freshman forward Marisa Knott (Rosemount, Minn./Rosemount) created the opening.
“I was very pleased with our improvement in the second half,” Ross said. “Despite the defeat, we won the second half against a very good team, and that’s a big positive we can take into the next game.”
Next up for the Huskies is a trip to Western Illinois in Macomb at 1 p.m. Sunday. For more information on NIU women’s soccer and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.