Throughout the summer, the IU women's soccer team watched as their season schedule continueally got slashed due to the COVID-19 pandemic before the Big Ten's announcement on Aug. 11 to postpone fall sports.
The women’s soccer season is usually 19 regular-season games plus the Big Ten Tournament and hopefully the NCAA Tournament. But after the Big Ten switched to an all-conference schedule, the Hoosiers had just 12 games remaining and no Big Ten Tournament before the final decision to cancel the season was made.
The athletes and head coach Erwin van Bennekom questioned whether or not this season would have been meaningful if they had played.
“Obviously our team wanted to play,” van Bennekom said. “I wanted to play, but I wanted to play 20 games, and then 18 games, then 16 games, maybe 14 games. But when it got to 12 games with the uncertainty of having a national tournament or Big Ten Tournament, it is like what does this mean?”
The cancellation came as no surprise to van Bennekom, who was eager for his second season with IU. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the season throughout the summer, the Hoosiers started training Aug. 4.
“We all knew there was a potential of cancellation, but we were trying to be ready for the first game no matter what,” van Bennekom said.
After the initial disappointment following the postponement, the team has refocused. For van Bennekom, it’s normally about attacking the season in phases. Now without a season, the phases have changed.
“I really was looking forward to taking the next step, but it is what it is, and we are going to use this time wisely and efficiently to keep developing players and our program,” van Bennekom said.
For sophomore defender Karlee Luker, a transfer from the University of Rhode Island, the extended training period can help her hone her skills in a new environment. Typically the fall is about the result, not the process, as the Hoosiers battle their way through the season. Now, Luker and her teammates have the time to focus on the tiny details that will make a difference when they return to the field.
While practicing five days per week, IU has been breaking the training up by field positions. As a defender, Luker said she is personally working on clearing the ball and her defensive positioning when the opponent challenges.
The team has also been working off the field on their cohesiveness. Before classes started, Luker said the team went camping together at Monroe Lake as a way to bond before training picked up again.
Despite van Bennekom’s emphasis that training and workouts are optional if players don’t feel safe, both he and Luker have been impressed by the team’s motivation since nobody has opted out.
“Everyone has been showing up every single day,” Luker said. “I don’t think it’s even a question whether or not people would want to stop coming.”
The consistent attendance has given van Bennekom the opportunity to stress the importance of handling disappointment and tough situations to his athletes. He said he wants the team to understand the only way to know how to handle hardships is to experience them and learn from it.
“Going through something like this you realize that you can’t take anything for granted because anything can be taken away from you at any given time,” Luker said.