Coming off a draw against the University of Notre Dame, IU women’s soccer is seeking to continue a strong defensive start to the season when it hosts the University of Tennessee at Martin at 8 p.m. Thursday at Bill Armstrong Stadium.
In their home opener, the Hoosiers were able to capitalize with long stretches of possession against the Valparaiso University Beacons with a 70th-minute goal from freshman forward Jordyn Levy to win the match 1-0. IU also managed to hold Notre Dame off the scoresheet Sunday, meaning the Hoosiers have yet to concede a goal going into Thursday’s matchup.
UT Martin enters Thursday’s match with an identical 1-0-1 record to IU’s, defeating Southern Illinois University 2-0 in its home opener and holding the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to a scoreless draw on the road.
In the previous and only matchup between the two sides during the 2019 season, the Hoosiers overcame a 1-0 halftime deficit with second-half goals from then-freshman midfielder Avery Lockwood and then-sophomore defender Oliwia Wos, helping steal all three points from the Skyhawks.
In preparation for the match, IU head coach Erwin van Bennekom has been cautious to not overwork his team during an early season schedule largely on the road. Van Bennekom understands how busy things have become now that players have returned to classes.
“It's a stressful time that can hurt their sleep,” van Bennekom said. “We’re managing their training load, giving the players recovery days and watching film. Nobody gets better if somebody is hurt or mentally not right, so we’re making sure they’re relaxed and focused.”
Freshman goalkeeper Jamie Gerstenberg has impressed her coach so far, recently making several key saves against Notre Dame and earning her team another shutout. The German said she's become more comfortable with each match, making sure to not overthink things or change her routine.
“I’m honestly excited for tomorrow’s match and not so nervous,” Gerstenberg said. “It’s my first time speaking English on the field and learning how the game is played in America, but I’m lucky that my connection with my back line is strong.”
Strong it is, with players like German sophomore Anna Aehling and Polish senior Wos headlining a predominantly European defensive unit for the Hoosiers, which makes Gerstenberg feel better about herself on the field.
UT Martin graduate goalkeeper Erica Myers will be opposite Gerstenberg on the pitch. Myers recently earned Ohio Valley Conference Goalkeeper of the Week honors for posting shutouts in both of the Skyhawks’ games.
The IU offense is still figuring out how to find the back of the net on a consistent game-to-game basis. Against a defense that has allowed zero goals so far, scoring will be hard to come by Thursday night.
Van Bennekom said he expects a tough game against UT Martin but won’t deviate from the defensive-minded approach that has given the Hoosiers great success in the back.
“It’s not like we’re going to send 10 players up the field,” van Bennekom said. “We don’t want to get counter-attacked and be opened up in the back. I would much rather win a game 1-0 than 5-4, even if other people don’t like that.”
IU announced Wednesday afternoon the match was pushed back by an hour from the original 7 p.m. start time due to heat concerns. The temperature at kickoff is expected to be in the low 90s. IU’s away match against Notre Dame was played in sunny 90 degree weather and included a water break stoppage in both halves. The same should be expected Thursday.
Looking back on a scrappy performance in Tennessee the last time the two met, Van Bennekom said he looks forward to playing the Skyhawks in Bloomington this time and stressed the squad’s growth since then.
“We may be a much younger team than we were the last time we played them, but we’re much better now,” van Bennekom said.