Coming off a draw at home against No. 17 Michigan, Indiana women’s soccer will keep pushing toward the NCAA Tournament in a match against Northwestern at 8 p.m. Friday in Evanston, Illinois.
Indiana hopes to extend its four-match unbeaten streak and remain in the top half of the Big Ten standings. Since falling to Michigan State in its conference home opener, Indiana has defeated Iowa and Illinois and shared points in draws with Ohio State and Michigan.
Currently, the Hoosiers sit fifth in the conference and 8-2-3 overall.
Northwestern’s 3-1-1 mark in Big Ten play has translated into a fourth-place position in the conference standings. Similarly to Indiana, Northwestern lost its conference opener, but hasn’t looked back since shocking No. 12 Penn State in a road victory and is unbeaten in its last four matches.
“We call this a six-point game because we’re that close in the standings and it matters a lot,” Indiana head coach Erwin van Bennekom said. “Most of our remaining games are like that. Hopefully, we’re going to use some of that feeling of losing at their place last year.”
The Wildcats have been a tricky opponent for the Hoosiers in recent years. The Hoosiers have lost four consecutive matchups against the Wildcats and haven’t won at Martin Stadium since 2014.
The Wildcats have played their best soccer at home, posting a perfect 4-0-0 record in Evanston. On the other hand, the Hoosiers are 1-1-2 on the road this season, leaving more to be desired away from Bloomington. In their only Big Ten road match, the Hoosiers came back from a 0-1 halftime deficit to draw 1-1 against Ohio State.
Since Indiana will play just one of its five remaining regular season matches at Bill Armstrong Stadium, it’ll need to quickly improve on the road and turn draws into wins to keep up with the Big Ten’s best in the standings.
“It’s funny because we had two good games, but only got two points out of six,” van Bennekom said. “So even though the results are good against teams in the top end of the league, we want to continue to get better this week.”
Indiana faces a three-match road trip, its longest of the season. Matches at Penn State and Maryland mean Indiana will have to stay on the East coast for almost the entirety of next week.
But van Benenkom claims it's not as bad as it seems to be. He said his players can be a team and hangout together in preparation for away matches this season, which COVID-19 made impossible in the spring season.
Wildcat sophomore midfielder Josie Aulicino has been one of the most efficient offensive players in the Big Ten, leading the conference with seven assists and four game-winning goals, while also leading the Wildcats in goals with six total and 19.
No other Northwestern player has reached a double-digit point total this season. They rank second-to-last in the Big Ten in goals scored this season with 19, and will be tasked with unlocking a stout Hoosier defensive unit that ranks first in the conference and is tied for fifth in the nation with just five goals allowed.
“They have some very good players that make a difference, so we want to make sure we stop those people first,” van Bennekom said. “They’re a bit open at times in transition and have given up goals on set pieces, so we’ll hope to expose them in those areas.”
Indiana boasts three attacking players with double-digit point totals: sophomore forward Jen Blitchok with 12, junior midfielder Paige Webber with 11 and freshman forward Jordyn Levy with 10. Of Indiana’s five goals in Big Ten play so far, Webber is responsible for two and Blitchok for one.
The Hoosiers will prioritize getting three points against the Wildcats, but the opportunity to create history will also be on their minds Friday. They are one shutout away from tying the program’s single-season record of nine. The record is held by current graduate goalkeeper Bethany Kopel in 2019 and former goalkeeper Shannon Flowers in 2013.
“Anything extra the team can use, we will,” van Bennekom said. “The motivation of setting records in this program is something that they’re all committed to.”