I’ve yet to write from a first-person point-of-view this season, but as the final regular season match concluded, I thought there wasn’t a better time to do it than now.
Sunday’s match against No. 12 Michigan State was of course highlighted by the IU victory and the fact that this team is the first team ever to go undefeated in Big Ten play with an 8-0 record.
But, the most important part of this victory wasn’t the golden goal in the 97th minute by sophomore Justin Rennicks and it wasn’t the RPI boost of a win against No. 12 Michigan State, it was about the catalysts behind this win and the entire season.
Obviously, all players and coaches deserve credit for the year this team has had, but there are eight individuals who have been through it all and deserve this season’s accolades more than anyone else.
Seniors Rece Buckmaster, Timmy Mehl, Francesco Moore, Jeremiah Gutjahr, Cory Thomas, Trevor Swartz, Austin Panchot and Andrew Gutman were all honored before Sunday’s match for Senior Day.
I like to call them the elite eight.
These eight seniors have been the engine of IU’s successes this season. As they stood with their family members before the match, getting their names called by the PA announcer, everyone in the stands was standing up and applauding, paying homage to the work the seniors have put in over the years.
Coming into the match, this group of seniors had a total of 69 wins and 419 combined stats.
IU Coach Todd Yeagley started all eight seniors against MSU, and it resulted in the unit’s 70th win. Starting every senior on Senior Day isn’t an IU tradition – these eight guys are all just that talented.
Buckmaster and Mehl were rocks on the backline against Michigan State. Buckmaster was matched up with one of MSU’s best attackers in Dejuan Jones and was able to hold him in check. Near the end of the game, MSU had a big chance to score one on Muse, but Mehl slid and blocked the shot. Muse had to make just one save against the Spartans, and it was IU’s fourth-straight shutout.
Moore also contributed to the defensive end with his defensive-mid position. He and Gutjahr managed the middle of the field to perfection, which was why IU was on the attack so much throughout the game, ending with 20 total shots.
Thomas and Panchot applied pressure on MSU’s half of the field by maneuvering around defenders and distributing the ball to the outside wings for it to be crossed in.
Swartz, one of the outside midfielders, was constantly sending in crosses to give his team opportunities. He leads the Big Ten in assists with 10 and is fourth nationally. Swartz also had a goal called back in the 86th minute after being called offside.
Then, there’s Gutman. He starts as the left outside back, but he can push up and look like a striker at times. It was his burst of speed and aggressive shot in the 97th minute that forced the Spartan keeper to deflect it, allowing Rennicks to have the easy tap in.
Those are just specific examples of what the seniors did to beat the Spartans, and a summarization of what they provide IU each and every game. I don't know if there's a more talented group of seniors in the country than IU's eight.
“They know how important they are,” Yeagley said. “It’s pretty cool.”
Yeagley then sat back in the post-game press conference and said how eight is a big group and chuckled how that can be worrisome about next year.
But, the big thing about this team is that they aren’t focused on next year, and they aren’t focused on last year.
All the seniors went through that heartbreak last year. All the seniors finally captured a Big Ten Championship this year after being so close years prior.
This year, redemption is most prevalent within the elite eight, and behind their leadership and skill, redemption is what they might just get.