At a program like IU, with its eight national championships and NCAA-record 19 College Cups, winning is something that is expected.
Coming into 2017, this group of Hoosiers was trying to get back to a place they haven’t been since 2012. No one on this current team was on the team in 2012 when IU made its last College Cup. It’s quite remarkable that five years is the second longest drought between College Cup berths in program history.
This current group hadn’t even made it past Round 16 in the NCAA Tournament in their careers before this season. Yet, they still set the lofty, yet not so lofty, goal of winning a national championship.
Now, as IU gets set for its first College Cup match since 2012 against the North Carolina Tar Heels in Chester, Pennsylvania, there's a chance for this group to be remembered at IU forever with a ninth star.
“The last one was the most important one for us, winning the NCAA Tournament,” IU senior Grant Lillard said. “Just being in a position where we control our destiny, where we have the opportunity to achieve that goal, we’re really excited about it and confident going into the game.”
There was obvious disappointment from the Hoosiers when they could not come away with either the Big Ten regular season title or the Big Ten Tournament title. But throughout that whole process, everyone pointed to the NCAA Tournament as almost a point of redemption.
Through the first two matches of the NCAA Tournament, IU advanced with relative ease. But there was nothing easy about the NCAA quarterfinal against Michigan State. The sixth largest crowd in Bill Armstrong Stadium history saw IU advance past the Spartans via penalty kicks.
Come Friday, IU has arguably its sternest test of the season in North Carolina. The Tar Heels are the only thing that stands between IU and a berth in the title match come Sunday. In the meantime, the Hoosiers are keeping things loose.
“I want them to have a great time,” IU Coach Todd Yeagley said. “That was a big takeaway of 2012 when we were there. They had a great time, our guys really enjoyed it… You have to keep things pretty similar and have some fun because going into this, there’s going to be a lot of anxiety around kickoff, so there’s no reason to bring more of that into the weekend.”
Something that might give IU some anxiety is the North Carolina attack. The Tar Heels boast four different players who have 19 or more points led by sophomore Cam Lindley. The MAC Herman award semifinalist pulls the strings in the midfield putting up seven goals and 13 assists in 2017.
“He (Lindley) makes things happen for them,” Yeagley said. “In the system they play he’s the quintessential quarterback. He brings in all of their front players and is a phenomenal distributor. He can hit a ball from distance and has a good eye for the game. We’ll have to keep a close eye on him. Yet, you can’t key in on one guy on this team.”
Along with Lindley is another trio of attackers who all have goal-scoring capabilities. Sophomore forward Jelani Pieters, senior forward Alan Winn and senior forward Zach Wright are all dangerous in their own right. It’s the classic matchup of offense versus defense.
Come Friday at 8:45 p.m. at Talen Energy Stadium, it will be North Carolina trying to reach its first final since 2011 or IU since 2012. Either way, it’s a chance to make history for both teams.
“I’ve felt that every single team since I’ve been here has been a final four team,” Lillard said. “But this group we actually made it. We just have more options and more balance going forward and defensively we’re a confident group… It’s been a fun year.”
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