Indiana women’s soccer will play Penn State in its second of three-straight road matches at 7 p.m. Wednesday in University Park, Pennsylvania.
The match will be broadcast on ESPNU and is the first nationally televised match this season for the Hoosiers, who are 9-2-3 overall and 3-1-2 in Big Ten play. Indiana head coach Erwin van Bennekom said his team are excited about the opportunity and expect a tough match against Penn State, which is 8-5-0 overall this season.
Indiana’s most recent victory, a 1-0 result against Northwestern on Friday in Evanston, Illinois, extended its unbeaten streak to five matches. In that span, Indiana has outscored its opponents 6-2 and posted three shutouts.
The Nittany Lions captured the Big Ten regular season title in the spring, but the same level of success hasn’t carried over this fall. A 2-4-0 record in Big Ten play up to this point means the Nittany Lions are in a three-way tie for ninth place in the conference standings.
Van Bennekom said he doesn’t believe Penn State’s record is indicative of how talented his team’s opponent really is. Despite its 8-5-0 record, Penn State is 3-2 against ranked opponents this season. Most notably, Penn State defeated then-No. 3 University of Virginia 4-2 on Sept. 9.
“We’re well aware they gotta win some games as well to get going, so we’re probably going to get their best version,” van Bennekom said. “Against Penn State we’re gonna have to create more to win.”
The Nittany Lions have stumbled at Jeffrey Field recently and are 1-2 at home in Big Ten play, a promising sign for the Hoosiers, who are undefeated on the road in Big Ten play.
Van Bennekom said that although Indiana would probably be a lock to make it into the NCAA tournament if the season ended today, he believes his team will need a couple more positive results from its four remaining regular-season matches to make sure there’s no question. He said the Hoosiers refuse to get ahead of themselves and underestimate their opponents.
“They know exactly who Penn State is,” van Bennekom said. “Against anybody in the league, we don’t have to mention how important it is. We’re not good enough to take anybody lightly.”
Indiana matched the program’s single-season record of nine shutouts in its win against Northwestern and will be looking for another Wednesday. Going into the match, Indiana is tied with Pepperdine University for third in the nation with just five goals allowed this season.
Van Bennekom said he feels confident in the Hoosiers’ ability to plan for different teams defensively, and believes they have influenced how Big Ten opponents — even gifted attacking sides like the Nittany Lions — approach games against them.
“The best thing is that they know we don’t just show up,” van Bennekom said. “It’s the way we transition, the way we defend and the care for not giving up the ball.”
The Hoosiers’ only victory in their 30-match history against the Nittany Lions came in 1996. Last spring, the Hoosiers fell 2-1 in the regular season and 3-1 in the Big Ten tournament to the Nittany Lions.
A win against Penn State would be a big achievement for the program, but van Bennekom said Indiana isn’t letting past performances influence how it prepares for the match. The team’s goal is to always get three points, no matter who stands in its way.
Indiana will be away from Bloomington all week during its road trip, which concludes at Maryland on Sunday. A road stretch like this toward the end of the season can be exhausting, but van Bennekom said Indiana’s results are keeping the players’ spirits and motivation high.
“Mentally it only becomes draining when it’s not fun, and I feel like a lot of them are having fun,” van Bennekom said. “There’s nothing better than winning.”