IU Coach Amy Berbary had a message for her team in the postgame debrief following a 2-1 loss to Iowa on Saturday.
“If you didn’t think next weekend was big, think again,” she said.
The Hoosiers (10-3-1, 3-3) are hitting the road for a 7 p.m. Friday game in Ann Arbor, Mich., against Michigan (10-2-1, 4-1-1) before completing the weekend with a noon game in East Lansing, Mich., against Michigan State (7-5-2, 1-5).
It will be the first time the Hoosiers have been on the road since losing a pair of games on their last road trip to Ohio State, 1-3, and Penn State, 1-4.
“Playing on the road is so hard,” senior goalie Shannon Flower said. “People who haven’t played college athletics don’t understand just how hard it can be to win on the road.
“I think it’s going to be a test of mental toughness.”
The first test will come against a Michigan team that is on a three-game winning streak that has helped the Wolverines move up to 10th in the RPI rankings.
Despite being the underdogs, senior midfielder Lisa Nouanesengsy believes the game will be a competitive matchup.
“They’re a good team, but I don’t think they are way better than us or anything,” Nouanesengsy said. “The Big Ten has been pretty even this year. As long as we come out focused and get the small details correct, it will be a good game for us.”
One of the keys for the Hoosiers will be improving upon their recent slow starts. They have allowed a goal during the opening 15 minutes of four of their last five games.
The Michigan defense has been the best in the Big Ten this season, allowing only 0.63 goals per game, which means allowing another early goal could create a deficit too hard to overcome.
“They pride themselves in defending,” Berbary said.
Sunday, the Hoosiers will play a Michigan State team that has struggled of late, losing their last four games.
Flower said she is not overlooking the Spartans despite their recent struggles.
“Every team in the Big Ten is talented and can beat anybody else,” Flower said. “Even though they are at the end (of the standings), we know they can play.”
Michigan State is near the bottom of every offensive category in the Big Ten. Despite that, one of the Spartans’ strengths this season has been capitalizing on corner kicks and making the most of the shots they manage to get off.
“They are very good on set pieces,” Berbary said. “They can be very dangerous. We just need to make sure we stay very tight defensively and make sure we don’t allow shots in shooting range.”
With only a few weeks left in the regular season, Berbary said this weekend could be a difference maker on getting into the postseason.
“This weekend not only has Big Ten implications, but NCAA implications,” Berbary said. “We have our smaller goal of getting to the Big Ten Tournament, but beyond that, it’s crucial towards getting to the national tournament.”
Follow reporter SamBeishuizen on Twitter @sam_beishuizen.