IU women’s soccer is back in the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2016.
But this year’s team bears little resemblance to the last playoff-bound Hoosier squad. In his first season at the helm, IU head coach Erwin van Bennekom inherited only two players from that 2016 team.
Only senior midfielder Chandra Davidson and senior defender Meghan Scott have experienced a postseason, playing in a 3-1 first-round loss to Minnesota as freshmen three years ago.
Van Bennekom entered his first season with a laissez-faire outlook, but with a young core bolstered by Big Ten All-Freshman midfielder Avery Lockwood, van Bennekom hopes to make tournament trips a regular event.
The first step toward that success will begin Sunday as IU travels to Piscataway, New Jersey, to take on 16th-ranked Rutgers in the first round of the tournament.
IU did face off against Rutgers less than two weeks ago, Oct. 20. The game ended with a 1-0 win for Rutgers.
It was not an easy win for the Scarlet Knights, as the Hoosiers forced a scoreless tie into overtime. The golden goal came just three and a half minutes into the first extra session.
IU allowed 16 shots while only getting four of its own. But junior goalkeeper Bethany Kopel made five saves and the Hoosiers turned in 90 minutes of another bend-don’t-break performance.
Expect more aggression by IU in the first half, as most of its success has come when scoring first this season. If IU can set up Lockwood, who led the team with five goals, or Davidson as the primary offensive targets, it may be able to get the jump on Rutgers.
Junior midfielder Melanie Forbes will try and join the rush often and squeeze her way into open spots on set pieces, much like she did for the lone goal in IU’s match against Purdue.
If sophomore defender Oliwia Wos can set Davidson and Lockwood up with long passes into the attacking third, as she has a handful of times this season, the Hoosiers’ goal scorers may be able to sneak in behind the defense for a clean look at the net.
Of course this is easier said than done against a Rutgers defense that allowed 0.53 goals per game. While it only scored 28 goals this year, the nine it surrendered to opponents helped Rutgers finish 13-2-2, and 7-2-1 in conference. Don’t be too surprised if these teams ultimately go to extra time and perhaps even penalty kicks.
Whoever wins will ultimately face off against the winner of the matchup between the No. 3 and No. 6 seeds, Michigan and Maryland. IU finished in draws against both Michigan and Maryland during the regular season.
The Hoosiers have exceeded their coach’s first season expectations by even making the tournament. Now, they’re just a few good bounces away from a tournament final appearance.