Going into its Sunday afternoon showdown against Rutgers, Indiana women's soccer had a major point to prove: show that they can be a competitive team in conference play. With an impressive 6-0-2 start to the season, it was clear that the Hoosiers could win games, but the question remained whether or not Indiana could win games within the Big Ten. That point was proved by a statement 3-2 win over the Scarlet Knights, a perennial conference powerhouse.
It became clear early in the match that the Hoosiers were not going to sit back and adjust to their opponent, but rather take control with heavy defensive pressure. Just 54 seconds after kickoff, a hustle play from sophomore defender Natasha Kim gave Indiana possession in the 18-yard box and a golden opportunity to take the lead. Following some precision passing, the ball found the foot of senior midfielder Anna Bennett, who drilled home the game's first score.
The Hoosiers' scorching hot start simply kept sizzling when graduate forward Paige Webber found herself in a one-on-one breakaway following an impressive feed from junior goalkeeper Jamie Gerstenberg. Webber had just enough time to settle the ball and place a pinpoint chip into the net, giving Indiana its second goal in the early minutes.
Indiana’s defense held strong for a large portion of the first half, but in the 38th minute the Scarlet Knights would finally break through the Hoosiers’ defensive front. The Rutgers attack showed composure with some quick passes, which left just enough space for junior forward Gia Girmin to thread a shot past Gerstenberg and into the net. The two teams would go into the locker rooms with the Hoosiers up 2-1 after a thrilling first half of conference play.
The Scarlet Knights came out of the intermission looking to control possession and capitalize off the momentum built in the latter part of the first half. Rutgers’ pressure would pay off shortly, when graduate forward Gia Vicari found herself in a battle to the ball with senior defender Zoe Tiger. After a crucial miscommunication between Tiger and Gerstenberg, Vicari found herself with a completely open net and tapped in the equalizer.
It looked as though the game was destined to end in a draw, as both teams took turns on the attack, unable to find the decisive goal. The stalemate would eventually be broken in exciting fashion when Indiana’s freshman defender Piper Coffield rifled a long through ball across the pitch.
Once again it was Webber who would be on the receiving end, locked into a dead sprint for the ball against freshman keeper Olivia Bodmer. The Hoosiers' leading goal scorer showed immense composure, winning the race to the ball and placing the game-winning goal in the back of the net.
“It feels amazing, part of us feels like it's a championship game.” Webber said after the game. “Rutgers is historically a very, very good program and to beat them here at home it feels really good, and it gives us a lot of confidence.”
In 2022, Indiana won just one conference game all season. The Hoosiers can surpass that mark on Sept. 21, when they travel to Champaign to take on Illinois. The kickoff is set for 8 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on Big Ten Network.