Indiana women’s soccer has posted a 6-1-1 record this fall — its best record to start a season since 2013 — through nonconference play, but its conference matches ahead will determine whether the season will be viewed as a success.
Indiana will need a good performance in the Big Ten to reach the NCAA Tournament, and its first opponent is the Michigan State Spartans. The game is at 1 p.m. Sunday at Bill Armstrong Stadium in Bloomington.
The Spartans have bounced back from a 1-10-1 record in last spring’s shortened season — good for 13th and second to last in the Big Ten standings. They have an undefeated 5-0-2 record entering Sunday’s conference opener.
Junior midfielder Megan Wampler, who has made Indiana’s starting XI in every match this season, said the team is prepared for the challenge and won’t change its identity simply because of Michigan State’s promising start.
“Even though they’re undefeated, it’s about making sure we’re a team they haven’t played before and making sure we stay true to our style of play,” Wampler said. “We’ve been so successful in nonconference and carrying that over is key.”
The Hoosiers have had the Spartans’ number in recent history, winning seven of the last eight matchups. The Hoosiers’ most recent victory was a 2-1 victory in their spring season home finale in Bloomington.
Sophomore forward Jen Blitchok and junior midfielder Avery Lockwood, who each have three goals for the Hoosiers this season, found the back of the net in the last meeting.
Following Sunday’s 3-0 road victory against Kansas State University, Indiana didn’t have a midweek match for the first time all season. Head coach Erwin van Bennekom said his team has used the extra time off to rest as much as possible. He said illnesses and injuries are common during this time of year so training sessions have been light.
“We’ve been going for like six weeks straight, so we’re trying to be smart about it because we’ve got a lot of games coming,” van Bennekom said.
Junior midfielder Paige Webber transferred from Michigan State over the summer and will be one of Indiana’s players to watch. The opportunity couldn’t have come at a better time for Webber since she was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for a 42-minute hat trick and assist in Indiana’s final pair of nonconference wins.
“She’s going to play a big role, whatever it may be,” van Bennekom said. “She’ll be going up against some old teammates and friends, so she’ll be up for it. Coming off a good weekend of performances is good for her confidence going into it.”
To add to the list of Indiana award winners, freshman goalkeeper Jamie Gerstenberg earned Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Week honors — alongr with Illinois freshman midfielder Sydney Stephens — for posting two shutouts and seven combined saves in Indiana’s victories against Murray State University and Kansas State.
The award didn’t travel far after freshman forward Jordyn Levy received it the week prior thanks to a game-winning goal against Western Michigan University and another against Southeast Missouri State University.
Van Bennekom stressed how crucial the young players have been and will continue to be for the Hoosiers if they want to experience similar success in the second half of the season.
“They’re all playing well,” van Bennekom said. “Jordyn has been scoring and it’s not easy to keep that going, and Jamie just looks so solid even as a young goalkeeper. Even Sydney (Masur) has played well starting the past couple games and Camille (Hamm) easily starts for us. It’s good for us because they all have a couple years left.”
The Hoosiers have struggled in previous years to consistently score, but a recent offensive reawakening — including 15 goals in their last four matches — has lifted the Hoosiers’ morale, making them more comfortable in the attacking third.
Wampler said the group is excited for Big Ten play to get underway and hopes the team can keep making history and a name for the program.
“It’s probably the most confident we’ve felt going into Big Ten play than we have in the past couple seasons,” Wampler said. “We’ve always been defensive-minded in the past, but scoring goals now gives us a big boost in the attacking half. We can finish off games not just 1-0, but 3-0 like we have.”