Upperclassmen leadership poises IU for ninth title


Junior defender Phil Fives runs for the ball against a Mexican player on Sunday at Bill Armstrong Stadium. FIves scored one of the Hoosiers two goals, helping IU to beat the Mexican U-20 National Team 2-0. Noble Guyon and Noble Guyon

IU Coach Todd Yeagely has every reason to believe his team has the talent and leadership to make a deep run into the NCAA Tournament.

With seven seniors on the roster, two of whom were a part of an IU national championship team in 2012, his upperclassmen will soon be the key ingredient to bring home a ninth national championship to Bloomington.

“I think we have good leadership,” Yeagley said. “You see players like Richard Ballard and Phil Fives elevating his presence and playing with more even more confidence.”

Ballard and team captain Derek Creviston, a senior, were part of IU’s eighth national championship team. Fives arrived at Akron two years after the Zips won a title and transferred to IU two years after its national championship.

“Derek is a returning captain, and he’s not on an island by himself,” Yeagley said. “He has a lot of natural leadership qualities with his focus and his attention to detail.”

The Hoosiers also have the stunning dribbling skills of preseason All-American senior midfielder Tanner Thompson to lead the way on offense, and junior defender Grant Lillard, who was named best defender in the nation by, on defense. 

Lillard terrorizes opposing attackers with his 6-foot-4 frame.

Yeagley said he sees great leadership out of Thompson during in-game situations as he has become a more dominant factor with his voice on the pitch.

With several upperclassmen trying to cement their spots in the starting lineup for the Hoosiers, there is a wealth of underclassmen competing for roles. The team acknowledges the internal competition for spots and agrees it will only make the team better for now and for years to come.

“Honestly, just every day, you have to bring it,” Fives said. “The seriousness in your training and not taking every minute for granted. It’s the little details that people sometimes forget about, so when the older guys are focused that’s when the younger guys start to hone in, and that’s how they approach everything.”

The Hoosiers will need their senior leaders to help the team navigate a tough schedule.

Not only do they start on the road for the first time since 2006, but they also play five West Coast teams early in the year. No. 4 Stanford and Cal will be early tests for IU before the Hoosiers have to face a physical Big Ten schedule with No. 2 Maryland expected to compete with IU for the crown this year.

“It’s a little different than the usual home opener, but I think it will be good,” senior goalkeeper Collin Webb said. “To get a couple games under our belt and then come face some California competition and to beat those guys from my home state would be a good way to start off my last season.”

This IU team is full of veterans ready to get after the season. Playing some tougher competition early might make it easier for the Hoosiers to shake off initial struggles and head to yet another postseason.

“As a player, they feel ready, which I like. As a coach, you never feel ready,” Yeagley said. “We prioritize and do what we can in the amount of time, but it’s a work in progress, and you play these tough teams to see where you’re at.”

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