Side by side, they walked back onto Jerry Yeagley Field as though it was time to handle business once again. The familiar deafening reception followed from those packed inside the stands.
Long ago, they took the same route as teammates. On Friday night, they basked in the support as brothers.
Fans at Bill Armstrong Stadium celebrated and cheered often throughout the night as Indiana men’s soccer downed No. 9-ranked University of Akron in a thrilling 2-0 win, but no applause came close to the magnitude of that directed toward an immortalized group of former Hoosiers before the game.
The alumni responsible for etching the eighth star around Indiana’s crest were back home.
“I was smiling a lot tonight,” head coach Todd Yeagley said postgame. “We stay in touch. We’re going to have a really good time tonight reminiscing and talking about — well, they’re almost the good old days.”
The Hoosiers’ most recent national championship, earned in 2012 with a gutsy 1-0 victory over Georgetown University, has aged a decade. Despite enduring its share of shortcomings since, the program has made a consistent effort to celebrate itself and its history, preserving its culture for each new generation that comes to play in Bloomington.
So when those former heroes took to the cycling track near the stands and lifted their hardware with pride, the importance of the moment wasn’t lost on a single member of the current Hoosier team tasked with securing that ninth star.
“I do feel it’s extra special,” Yeagley said. “I told the guys tonight, ‘You’re playing to leave your mark. Just know there’s a lot of pride being displayed tonight with who’s here and what it means.’”
This season’s squad has been forced to replace the production of several key departures quickly, all while facing some of the nation’s best teams in succession. There were expected stumbles in the opening matches, but the result-altering mistakes have been corrected in a convincing way across the pitch.
[Related: Indiana men’s soccer upsets No. 9 Akron, concludes 3 match homestand with 2 wins]
Facing the top-10 Zips at home was a true test of Yeagley and the team’s promise to get back in top shape on both sides of the ball, and the Hoosiers delivered to earn their second win in a row.
Akron, which had already scored 15 goals through its first four games, put Indiana’s back line and midfield under extreme pressure from the start and for long periods of the match.
The Hoosiers knew what was coming, though, drawing from last season’s experience in a 1-1 draw against the Zips. Quick passing sequences helped the Hoosiers launch attacks down both vulnerable wings in response. Sophomore forward Samuel Sarver and junior forward Nate Ward were the beneficiaries of the team’s aggressive counter-play, getting on the end of crosses for a goal each.
Indiana ended with 11 shots on target to Akron’s one and limited the visitors to half-chances at best thanks in large part to the veteran back line’s playmaking and selfless blocks.
“Our team defending won this game,” Yeagley said. “The way we turned them over in key spots generated a lot of our attacks. To hold that team to a few chances, let alone no goals, is a really good sign for this team.”
The Hoosiers have picked up the energy and results in the past week, enough to spark belief in another consistently successful campaign worthy of a College Cup appearance. The 10-year anniversary of the program’s last conquest, and meeting those who took part, is bound to have a lasting effect on the current team.
“We do everything for our alumni and we love having them out here,” Ward said. “Hopefully I’ll get to see a couple of them tonight and get a couple pointers from them.”
Once the teams went into the locker rooms and the last few fans trickled out of the gates, the pitch could breathe — but only for a moment. Soon enough, there were the champions again on the field, seeing if they still had it in themselves to strike a volley or two past each other.
Under those floodlights, time stood still in 2012.