Indiana women’s soccer entered 2022 with a promising young roster coming off of two of the best seasons the program has ever had.
In the shortened 2020-21 spring season, Indiana went 6-4-1 in the all-conference slate and racked up 19 points — a program record. In the fall of 2021, Indiana started 8-2-1 and finished with nine wins, yet another first for the program.
Narrator: 2022 did not continue that trend.
Indiana finished with a measly record of 3-7-7 and went 1-7-2 in the Big Ten, narrowly avoiding last place in the conference by 2 points. But hey, at least it finished better than Purdue!
I’ll cut the Hoosiers some slack. The Big Ten chose them to finish 10th out of 14 schools in its annual preseason poll, one place below where they ended up in 2021. They knew with half the roster consisting of new faces, consistency wasn’t going to be easy. Heck, the conference even had Indiana finishing higher than they did.
An Indiana athletics team not meeting expectations? Never heard of her.
Head coach Erwin van Bennekom made it clear during the team’s annual media day in August they were going to be inexperienced, as 13 new players had to adapt to his system. When asked about his expectations, van Bennekom was generic with his answers and “win the next game” was repeatedly said. Not a word about making the NCAA Tournament or the Big Ten Tournament. It was all about winning the next one.
Maybe a sign he knew the team wasn’t going to be very good?
This is no jab at van Bennekom, who purposely scheduled a tough nonconference slate to prepare the team for the Big Ten and show the incoming recruits what the Cream and Crimson are all about. He also deservedly earned a contract extension through 2027 after the success in 2021.
Coming into the season, Indiana retained the majority of its offensive weapons who were prevalent in the first half of 2021 but only scored once in the final six matches. This was a driving factor to the team’s capitulation, preventing it from playing in either postseason tournament.
Believe it or not, the question was whether the defense would hold up the way it did the season prior. Defense wins championships, right?
We learned pretty quickly that the defense was going to be the strength of this team. Six of the first eight matches ended in 0-0 draws, tying both program and NCAA DI records along the way. If it weren’t for sophomore goalkeeper Jamie Gerstenberg’s outrageous saves here and there, who knows what would have happened. Plus, the NCAA changing the rule to take away overtime in the regular season made things more interesting, or maybe more boring. Anyway, if you think a tie (or draw for you soccer sticklers) is like kissing your sister, well then, I’m sorry for your sister(s).
Then came the conference slate. Opponents were tougher, trips to away matches were longer, and soon enough, the Hoosiers’ goal difference grew unfavorably wider by the day.
Yup, I’m talking about the six-match losing streak smack dab in the middle of the conference schedule. After not conceding any goals in those first eight matches, Indiana started leaking in goals and often faced insurmountable deficits. Penalties were given away, red cards were handed out and opponents were seen pulling the strings so effortlessly it seemed like a game of FIFA on amateur mode.
It’s all to be expected with such a young team that just didn’t have the chemistry other teams in the Big Ten had, even after a handful of matches.
Sure, there were individual players that stood out, but the team could never put together stretches on par with some of the conference’s best, some of which were ranked inside the top-25. The pressure Indiana applied in the first 10 minutes of each half didn’t get it anywhere and only tired the Hoosiers out as they attempted to find a late equalizer in the final five minutes.
I’ll give the team some credit here: they never gave up. It would have been very easy for them to just start thinking about what assignments were due at 11:59 p.m. instead of playing out the rest of each match at their best. They were always tough to break down defensively, which is evidenced by the fact that they only conceded one goal to Rutgers and none to Penn State, two teams that are thought to be two of the best in the Big Ten entering this season.
That wasn’t true, along with many other things this season, as not many teams finished where the conference projected them to in August. Death, taxes and the Big Ten being unpredictable.
Indiana came into the final week of the season 0-6-1 in the Big Ten with just a single point, no goals in over a full calendar year in conference play and a season they probably wanted to put behind them sooner rather than later. But, the final three matches were against the three weakest opponents in the conference: Purdue, Maryland and Michigan.
With the easier schedule to end a rough ride, Indiana pulled itself together and put together three of its best performances, beginning with Purdue. Believe it or not, the Hoosiers actually scored in this match! Not once, but twice! And had a lead going into halftime! It was straight out of The Office’s Fire Drill episode — “Okay, it’s happening! Everybody stay calm! What’s the procedure everyone?”
Although they had to settle for a draw, it proved this young team did have some optimism and could in fact score. Although the next match — the final one at home versus Maryland — ended in a tough 1-0 loss, the final match at Michigan was the performance we were deprived of all season.
With the team only playing for pride and its seniors partaking in their final collegiate matches, Indiana used the motivation to dominate the Wolverines. The Hoosiers scored in the first half and held onto a clean sheet to win 1-0 and end the season on a high note while avoiding going winless in the conference and on the road for the first time since 2015.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is optimism for the future, but in 2022, in the words of Ted Lasso, it’s the hope that kills you.