A season that began with a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of the University of North Carolina may turn into a Big Ten tournament berth for IU women’s soccer.
Sitting at 3-4-2 in conference, the Hoosiers’ 11 points have been enough to keep them in a three-way tie for seventh in the conference with a chance to earn their first Big Ten tournament bid since 2016.
For IU head coach Erwin van Bennekom in his first season, a spot in the top eight wasn’t on his radar at first, but wins over Ohio State, Marylandand Illinois changed his tune.
“At the beginning it was like ‘you know what, this season we’ll see what happens’, but now I’m like, screw that, let’s go. This is what we do,” van Bennekom said.
IU is essentially looking at a win-and-in scenario when they face Purdue at home Sunday.
If the Hoosiers defeat their in-state rival, not only will they have virtually guaranteed themselves a spot in the tournament, but they will prevent the Boilermakers from making the tournament while reclaiming the Golden Boot for the first time since 2014.
The Golden Boot is the rivalry trophy both IU and Purdue fight for each year and has remained in Purdue's possession thanks to a 1-nil victory last season, a 2-nil victory in 2015 and draws in 2016 and 2017.
Purdue has endured a prolonged drought this season, not winning since Sept. 22, and going 0-6-2 over that stretch. However, Purdue has eight points, and a win over IU would tie the two teams at 11 points each.
The Boilermakers need to win to keep their postseason hopes alive, and for the Hoosiers, there is a safety net with one final game against last place Michigan State on Wednesday.
“We’re gonna do whatever we can to put them away early, and basically not wait till the 90th minute to make them feel like the season’s over,” van Bennekom said.
Neither IU nor Purdue have played since last Sunday, but for van Bennekom and his team, it was a welcome break. The team returned to practice Thursday after three days off for the first time all season, according to van Bennekom.
“We trained today, we’ll train tomorrow, we’ll train Saturday," van Bennekom said Thursday. “We’ve scouted Purdue pretty intensely, so we know what they’re about. We know what’s coming. We’ve got some players playing really well, so we’re excited."
IU will also be keeping a close eye on Ohio State, who has nine points and two games left on the schedule and would need to win out against current four-seed Iowa and conference leader Wisconsin to have a shot at finishing in the top eight.
As it stands now, IU could finish as high as sixth in the conference, but the potential still remains that it could miss the postseason altogether.
The results of Sunday’s rivalry match between the Hoosiers and Boilermakers could mean a return of the Golden Boot to Bloomington, a return to the tournament for the Hoosiers, and a final celebration at home for seniors Meghan Scott and Chandra Davidson, both of whom were on the last team to make it to the Big Ten tournament.
“A lot of things on the line,” van Bennekom said. “I think it’s gonna be a fun game.”