Indiana Daily Student

Indiana women’s soccer ends regular season with NCAA Tournament hopes in balance

<p>Junior midfielder Paige Webber chases after the ball Sept. 9, 2021, at Bill Armstrong Stadium. Indiana women&#x27;s soccer&#x27;s last two regular season games will come against the first and second teams in the Big Ten standings.  </p>

Junior midfielder Paige Webber chases after the ball Sept. 9, 2021, at Bill Armstrong Stadium. Indiana women's soccer's last two regular season games will come against the first and second teams in the Big Ten standings.

Indiana women’s soccer faces a challenging end to its regular season schedule, playing No. 9 Rutgers at 7 p.m. Thursday in Bloomington in its home finale before its regular-season finale against in-state rival No. 18 Purdue at 1 p.m. Sunday in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Rutgers is first in the Big Ten with an unblemished 8-0-0 conference record, while Purdue trails just behind in second at 6-2-0. Indiana failed to climb any higher than fifth place following a disappointing 1-1-1 road trip which included a 3-0 loss at Penn State and 0-0 draw to last-place Maryland.

Although the Hoosiers are 9-3-4 overall and are having a historic season defensively, setting the program’s single-season record of 10 shutouts, they’ve won just three of eight matches in Big Ten play. 

Recent results and its victories against Iowa, Illinois and Northwestern — all teams that sit below them in the standings — make Indiana’s resume slightly unconvincing, leaving them in an uncertain position with selection day for the NCAA Tournament approaching quickly.

“It’s simple,” Indiana head coach Erwin van Bennekom said. “We’re maybe one of the first few teams outside the bubble. If we win one of these two games, or maybe a tie against Rutgers because they’re so high-ranked, we’ll be in.”

The Hoosiers’ remaining opponents are difficult to plan against as it stands, but coming away from these matches with positive results will be more complicated since they won’t be at full strength.

Van Bennekom confirmed in a press conference Tuesday that the team will be without freshman goalkeeper Jamie Gerstenberg and sophomore forward Gabi Rennie for its matches against Rutgers and Purdue at the very least. It was announced Monday that Gerstenberg was called up to Germany’s under-20 national team for training camp and Rennie to New Zealand’s senior national team for friendly matches against Canada.

Rennie has played limited minutes off the bench for the Hoosiers this season, and van Bennekom said the forward can hopefully regain her rhythm with New Zealand. On the other hand, Gerstenberg has been one of the Hoosiers’ best players this season, posting nine shutouts to tie the program’s single-season individual record and conceding just eight goals through 16 matches.

“We recruit players based on the premise that anytime they can represent their countries we’ll support them and make them go,” van Bennekom said. “But it’s a tough one because now she’s missing our two most important games.”

Indiana is already depleted at the goalkeeper position, meaning Gerstenberg’s absence will be a major blow. Graduate goalkeeper Bethany Kopel and junior goalkeeper Chloe Briede have been sidelined all season with ACL injuries, and graduate goalkeeper Amanda Fay, a Boston University transfer, left the team earlier in the season due to a family member’s undisclosed illness.

Van Bennekom said senior goalkeeper Caitlin Arbuckle will have to step up in Gerstenberg’s place. He said Arbuckle plays very well, but the Hoosiers will plan to use their organized defensive structure to help her feel as comfortable as possible because she comes to the games with little starting experience.

“I’m proud of how we approach defending as a team, and that’s nice to know going into these two games against high-scoring teams,” van Bennekom said. “We’re missing Jamie, but we’re doing whatever we can to not let that affect the result.”

Rutgers is averaging three goals per match and sits in first in the Big Ten with 47 total goals, while Purdue is in third with 30 goals. Indiana will need to play perfect matches to slow down players like Purdue senior forward Sarah Griffith and Rutgers senior midfielder Frankie Tagliaferri, who lead the Big Ten with 13 and 11 goals, respectively.

The Hoosiers don’t only have concerns on the defensive side of the ball. They’ve been in a dry spell offensively, scoring just one goal through their last four matches. The Hoosiers are tied in 10th in goals scored in the Big Ten with only 23.

If they can’t manage to keep the Scarlet Knights and Boilermakers off the scoreboard, the Hoosiers will be forced to break out of their defensive shell and become more creative going forward. Van Bennekom said he’ll continue to tinker with the lineup to find an attacking spark.

“We just don’t have a lot of attacking players in (good) form,” van Bennekom said. “The good thing about the college system is that we can sub pretty quickly.”

Despite these issues, Van Bennekom said his players know their fate is in their own hands and are looking forward to bouncing back from the team’s recent poor performances.

“I don’t think we need a lot of motivation,” van Bennekom said. “We’re feeling really good about the challenge.”

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