Indiana men’s soccer had a slow start to its conference season, failing to win any of its first three Big Ten matches. Disappointing draws and missed opportunities were prominent early in their Big Ten slate, but the Hoosiers managed to turn it around and win a share of the Big Ten Title. Today Indiana celebrated another title Sunday after defeating Penn State 1-0 — the same team they shared the regular season title with.
There were a lot of similarities between Indiana and Penn State’s championship match and the regular season match. Both matches were extremely close, with Penn State fifth-year goalkeeper Kris Shakes constantly saving the Nittany Lions and keeping the matches within reach. But the shining similarity between these two matchups was junior forward Sam Sarver winning the games for the Hoosiers.
Prior to the first match with the Nittany Lions on Oct. 7, Indiana was struggling in conference play. The Hoosiers totaled just two points in their first three Big Ten matches and were sitting in the bottom half of the conference standings. Meanwhile, Penn State entered that matchup with seven points and was undefeated in the Big Ten.
That match set up a perfect opportunity for the Hoosiers to get back on track in conference play, but someone needed to step up for Indiana. Sarver did just that, scoring a brace and giving Indiana its first conference win of the season. The victory kick-started the Hoosiers’ season, where they went on to win four of their remaining five Big Ten matches. Sarver continued his fine form after the crucial win a month ago, earning a spot on the all-Big Ten first team.
Head coach Todd Yeagley said the first conference win played a big role in them winning the Big Ten double.
“A really important win for us to get back in the mix,” Yeagley said. “Kind of a nice turning moment for our group.”
Sunday’s championship was yet another opportunity for a Hoosier to make their mark in a big game, and it was Sarver who stepped up to the occasion once again.
Sarver scored the lone goal of the match in the 38th minute following a deflected shot from just outside Penn State’s box. Sarver cut in from the left side of the box before taking the shot that made its way into the back of the net.
“I actually had flashbacks to Ryan Wittenbrink,” Sarver said. “That’s a goal he would always score.”
Sarver’s goal in the championship match marked his third in two games against Penn State. Sarver said his speed plays a role in his success against the Nittany Lions.
“It’s the matchup advantage with pace,” Sarver said. “That’s the one attribute that in any sport really makes you play differently. When’s someone’s more pacey and athletic you really have to defend differently.”
Sarver has been present in Indiana’s previous two Big Ten Tournament championship matches, but Indiana lost both of those matches. Sarver said it was great to be on the winning side of the match this time around.
“Definitely hurts losing two in a row,” Sarver said. “You kind of get kicked in the teeth a couple of times, you want to be the guy who does the kicking eventually.”