Redemption is near.
After tying unranked Kentucky 1-1 on Wednesday, the No. 17 IU men’s soccer team travels to University Park, Penn., for its second-to-last conference match against Penn State.
Wednesday’s draw dropped IU’s record down to 9-4-3, but Saturday’s road game offers the Hoosiers a chance to improve their fourth-place position in the Big Ten standings. Penn State (4-9-3, 1-3) sits at the bottom of the conference.
“The Big Ten’s a black-and-blue division,” said IU coach Mike Freitag. “It’s tough from top to bottom. Their record doesn’t show it, but they’re a good team.”
With only two games left before the Big Ten Tournament, junior defender Ofori Sarkodie said it is crucial for IU to notch two more wins.
“It’s very important for the morale of the team and the confidence of certain players that we continue the momentum and the focus,” Sarkodie said.
With No. 6 Northwestern coming to Bill Armstrong Stadium next week, IU’s last chance to improve its conference standings is drawing near.
Before Wednesday, the Hoosiers boasted a three-game winning streak and looked poised to continue raising their season profile. But after this week’s draw, the players hope to finish IU’s roller-coaster season on a high.
“We’re not going to go into Penn State and not play,” Freitag said. “We’re going to play the rest of the way out, and we’re going to have success.”
Despite the Nittany Lions’ losing record, Freitag said the disappointments and setbacks the team has undergone have only made its players smarter and more responsible.
“I think these guys have learned their lesson,” Freitag said. “It takes a while to mature as a team. College sports are tough. There’s so much going on, midterms, travel. These guys are finding ways to handle all those situations.”
Senior forward Kevin Noschang, who scored the fastest goal in NCAA history six seconds into Wednesday’s game, said Wednesday’s final result did not accurately reflect the way the Hoosiers played the entire game.
“I think after (we gave up the goal) that we played a solid game,” Noschang said. “We cleaned up the mistakes. If we can bring that going into Penn State and continue that into the tournament, we’ll be good. (We) just (have) to continue doing what we’re doing that we weren’t doing at the beginning of the season. I think we’re going to find a lot of success.”
One hindrance to a possible Hoosier victory is the question of whether senior captain Brad Ring will compete with the team. Ring did not play against Kentucky after the midfielder suffered a last-minute leg injury. Senior midfielder John Mellencamp stepped in for Ring on Wednesday. Freshman defender Tommy Meyer also came into the game.
This close to tournament season, Sarkodie reiterated the significance of a strong finish.
“What’s most important is that we stick to the game plan, stick to what we’re doing well, focus on ourselves as a team, focus on some of the mistakes we may be making, tactically or technically,” Sarkodie said. “Heading into the tournament, we’ve just got to focus on us.”