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Monday, May 27
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's soccer

Second time’s the charm as Indiana men’s soccer powers past Marshall, advances to Elite Eight


On a cold, wet November night in Bill Armstrong Stadium, Indiana men’s soccer felt right at home. They are no stranger to the bright lights that glimmer over Jerry Yeagley Field come tournament time.

When it was known that Indiana would face Marshall in Sunday night’s Sweet 16 match, coach Todd Yeagley and the players planned to relish the opportunity. It was merely a year and a half ago, in the 2020-2021 NCAA National Championship, when the Thundering Herd crushed the Hoosiers’ hearts with a golden goal.

This time around, the script was flipped. Courtesy of a 47th minute goal from senior defender Brett Bebej that served as the difference, the Hoosiers will continue dancing into the Elite Eight.

“You could feel the energy of the crowd,” Yeagley said after the match. “It’s amazing what this program’s done, and it feels like it’s your first (Elite Eight). You just want more.”

While deep tournament runs are standard for Yeagley, bypassing Marshall — in the round that the Hoosiers historically struggle in — adds something special. To Bebej, who suffered the pain of the title defeat, Sunday night’s victory was extra sweet.

“That was one of the greatest moments of my career. I’m lost for words,” Bebej said. “I’m going to be nice here and say that that was one of the greatest wins I’ve had here at IU. That’s all I got to say.”

Bebej, whose third goal of the season came at an especially opportune time, embodies the mentality and play style that has guided Indiana to so much historical success. Over his storied four-year career, Bebej has lined up everywhere on the pitch outside of goalkeeper, though he surely could make an admirable effort if needed.

Versatility is crucial for the Hoosiers. Throughout postseason play, Indiana’s ability to win in different ways has been evident. When they took down Saint Louis in the second round, slow build up play and possession was key. But on Sunday night against Marshall’s overwhelming attack, a drastically different gameplan was needed.

“They have some really really good attackers, and they just have a nonstop engine to be honest,” junior defender Joey Maher said. “You don’t want to just sit back in a block, you want to take advantage of the moments.”

From the first touch of the match, the Hoosiers did just that. Their potential to wreak havoc on backlines is well documented, but the attacking group churned out arguably one of its more consistent outings.

Rather than allowing the Herd to come to them, Indiana terrorized Marshall defenders with an unforgiving press, which often forced errant passes. Sophomore attacker Sam Sarver, who struggled to break into the match against Saint Louis, was invaluable on Sunday night.

Sarver drew plenty of fouls due to his quickness, and his heart and desire were on display when he tracked deep into the midfield to dispossess an opponent. As for play in the final third, the feisty forward was the center piece of a handful of fruitful combinations with fellow attackers.

“You don’t want to deal with him,” Yeagley said of Sarver. “He’s relentless. Not only was it just hard work. But you have to have a willingness to do that type of work, and not all strikers are capable of that. We try to do our best to recruit guys who can.”

Most importantly, the Hoosiers’ ferocity never wavered. Throughout the regular season, there were times when, after gaining the advantage, the attackers would ease their pressure and the backline would be peppered with dangerous chances.

Even as Marshall sent numbers forward in its final attempts to equalize, there were no gasps from the home crowd. As opposed to previous matches, everyone felt safe in the waning moments.

“That was unbelievable. It was like 30, 45 seconds and (Marshall) just couldn’t really get out of their half,” Maher said. “It’s something you don’t really see and it’s something that’s really special with our front guys and our pressing.”

Now that revenge has been served, the Hoosiers find themselves just one win away from the College Cup. With an Elite Eight date with No. 12 seed University of North Carolina Greensboro on the horizon, the quest for a ninth national championship inches closer and closer to completion.

Follow reporters Kamil Gut (@GutKamil) and Matt Press (@MattPress23) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s soccer season.
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