Indiana women’s soccer struggled to find its finishing touch against No. 9 Rutgers in a 2-0 defeat Thursday at Bill Armstrong Stadium, extending its scoreless streak to three matches. Indiana is 9-4-4 on the season.
Since junior midfielder Megan Wampler’s 42nd minute goal in a 1-0 win at Northwestern on Oct. 8, Indiana has gone 337 minutes without a goal.
It was never going to be simple keeping the Scarlet Knights, who lead the Big Ten with 49 goals, from finding the back of the net, but the Hoosiers’ offense made matters more difficult for their defense by not converting the chances they created. The Hoosiers had six shots in the match, four of which were on target.
“The first 30 minutes was some of the best we’ve played all season, but we didn’t capitalize on some really good opportunities,” Indiana head coach Erwin van Bennekom said. “We dropped it after 30 minutes, we gotta keep playing.”
Sophomore forward Anna Bennett came close to scoring her fourth goal of the season in the fourth minute, but Rutgers senior goalkeeper Meagan McClelland controlled her bouncing shot from the top of the 18-yard box and prevented Indiana from taking the early lead.
The two best chances of the night for the Hoosiers centered around junior midfielder Avery Lockwood. She failed to equalize in the 31st minute after the Hoosiers down 1-0, whiffing on a shot after controlling a dangerous cross just a few yards from goal. Facing a 2-0 deficit in the 73rd minute, Lockwood struck the ball from 30 yards away, but McClelland shuffled backward in time to tip the shot over the crossbar.
With freshman goalkeeper Jamie Gerstenberg away from the team for international duty with Germany’s under-20 national team, senior goalkeeper Caitlin Arbuckle made her first career start for Indiana. Arbuckle looked comfortable in net and made six saves to keep the Hoosiers within striking distance of Rutgers.
“She did very well,” van Bennekom said. “Tough last home game in her senior year, but she came in and showed her confidence, so really proud of her.”
Indiana’s defense has kept the team in position to win matches, posting a single-season record of 10 shutouts, but the offense hasn’t repaid the favor and shut down when it’s mattered most.
Van Bennekom has stressed the importance of rotating his players in hopes of finding an answer for Indiana’s stale offensive production, but once again the front three were unsuccessful in creating enough possession for themselves. Indiana lacked a sense of urgency, even when down a pair of goals.
Junior midfielder Paige Webber and sophomore forward Jen Blitchok, who lead the Hoosiers with five and four goals this season, respectively, were used as substitutes for the majority of the season. The two came off the bench for the Hoosiers again Thursday, but by then it was too late as they were forced to chase the game and make an unlikely comeback.
Once the final whistle blew, the Scarlet Knights’ bench stormed Jerry Yeagley Field to celebrate clinching sole possession of the Big Ten regular-season title. It was a bitter feeling for the Hoosiers and van Bennekom, who are trying to build the program to the level of their opponent.
“I’d like us to celebrate on our field, not other teams,” van Bennekom said. “Congrats to Rutgers on winning the title by themselves. It’s never easy.”
Meanwhile, Indiana’s current standing in the Big Ten is uncertain and dependent on other results across the conference. Entering the match, Indiana was in a five-way tie for fifth, which makes the dropped points that much more detrimental.
Indiana has just one regular-season match remaining, a battle with in-state rival No. 18 Purdue at 1 p.m. Sunday in West Lafayette, Indiana. Purdue is 7-2-0 in Big Ten play, good for second in the standings.
The regular-season finale against the Boilermakers provides one final opportunity for Indiana to save its waning NCAA Tournament hopes and turn things around on the offensive side. Van Bennekom said there were positives to take away from Thursday’s loss, but execution in the attacking third needs to come quickly.
“I think the last few games we didn’t create much, and I thought today even though we didn’t have many shots we created four really good opportunities,” van Bennekom said. “We showed bravery on the ball. We’ll take that forward, but we gotta finish them.”