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Ahead of Big Ten tourney, we look back: How did IU get here?

Last Sunday, Indiana clinched its 16th regular season Big Ten title in program history and second in consecutive years. 

IU’s 1-0 win over Michigan State in East Lansing meant that once again it was the league’s elite. There were questions heading into this season if IU head coach Todd Yeagley would be able to pull off such a feat. 

The common storyline of IU losing 10 of 11 starters from last year’s College Cup squad mixed with an improved and balanced Big Ten conference meant IU could take nothing for granted.

Indiana gathers together on the pitch before kicking off the 2019 campaign against Pittsburgh. (Bailey Wright/HN)

But here we are. Over two months after IU began its regular season campaign the Friday of Labor Day weekend, IU starts its quest for the Big Ten double with a Sunday afternoon matchup with either Ohio State or Rutgers. 

Here’s how we got to this point.

Opening Weekend

Classic weekend in Bloomington is always an exciting way to kickoff the season. IU, who was the preseason No. 2 in the Coaches Poll, welcomed a slate of Pittsburgh and UCLA on the opening weekend. 

IU got a quick dose of reality early in the season opener on the Friday night against Pittsburgh. Pitt’s star striker Edward Kizza benefited from mistakes by Jordan Kleyn and Sean Caulfield to bury two first half goals and give the Panthers a 2-0 lead before the break. 

Yeagley regrouped the team at half and explained to them that nothing is different even with a near different squad. Something clicked in the second half and IU found its stride. Ian Black and Josh Penn scored in the second half to send it to overtime before Herbert Endeley’s double overtime goal completed the IU comeback for an IU win

IU once again found itself on the backfoot to begin against UCLA, conceding in the second half to Milan Iloski. 

But soon after Iloski’s goal, Victor Bezerra fired a shot from outside the 18-yard box to equalize. Then, in true IU fashion at the beginning of the year, there was drama. This time it was Jack Maher who played hero in double overtime as he tapped in the game winner to complete the perfect opening weekend.

It was a sloppy opening weekend, but it’s what needed IU to start the year.

Mike Berticelli Memorial Tournament

The following weekend, IU traveled to South Bend for a two-game slate with Denver and Seattle. 

IU conceded early to Denver, but Ian Black brought them level with a penalty kick in the 28th minute. Then, Black scored his third goal of the season in the 98th minute to give IU its third straight golden goal victory to begin the year.

On Sunday, IU battled a solid Seattle team for 110 minutes, but neither squad could find a breakthrough. It was IU’s fourth straight overtime match to begin the season, but its first points it dropped on the campaign. 

There were offensive and goalkeeping questions after this weekend, but fatigue set in quickly at the beginning of the year. 

First ranked opponent

IU had a week off following the Mike Berticelli tournament and returned home the following weekend for a highly awaited in-state derby with Notre Dame. At the time, Notre Dame was ranked in the top-20 and seeking revenge after two losses to IU the season before.

It was everything the battle and more. While it ended in a 1-1 draw after 110 minutes, Todd Yeagley and A.J. Palazzolo felt as if IU was the better team. IU had 25 shots that night but could only find the back of the net when Herbert Endeley brought IU level.

It was a disappointing result based off the stat sheet, but it showed IU was once again a legit contender. 

Big Ten opener

Every single Big Ten match is going to be difficult. When you’re the defending conference champions, you’ll have a target on your back. It was no different as IU opened the conference slate with a fixture against Wisconsin.

Wisconsin battled as well as it could with a depleted roster, but Victor Bezerra converted from the spot early to give IU a lead. Wisconsin got an equaliser that was almost immediately negated by a header from Daniel Munie. 

Maouloune Goumballe finished off the show with his first career goal as time ticked off the scoreboard. It was the present that Todd Yeagley wanted on his birthday. He got the win and started off the conference slate perfect. 

The first setback and the rebound

The annual IU-Butler derby always draws a large crowd and it was no different when the two squads met in Indianapolis. Butler jumped on IU from the start and dominated the entire 90 minutes.

Victor Bezerra attempts to make a play on the ball during Indiana’s 2-1 loss to Butler on September 24 in Indianapolis. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

Two defensive mistakes allowed for goals from Brandon Guhl and Alex Lehtinen to give Butler a comfortable lead. Jack Maher struck late in the match but it wasn’t enough as Butler took the 2-1 win, giving IU its first defeat of the year.

Victor Bezerra had a penalty shot blocked and Sean Caulfield came far off his line to allow the second goal. It was a bad night from IU, but it gave the Hoosiers things to learn from.

IU responded nicely with a 1-0 win over Sacramento State three days later thanks to a late goal from Josh Penn.

Roman Celentano takes over

One of the biggest things that plagued IU early in the season was the play of fifth-year goalkeeper Sean Caulfield.

As IU headed back into conference play, Yeagley replaced Caulfield with freshman Roman Celentano as a trial to find a second keeper in case of emergency.

Celentano flashed his potential in two 3-1 victories over Northwestern and Penn State to preserve IU’s perfect start to the conference slate. Penn State went down to 10 men early in the match, giving IU an advantage that led to three first half goals.

The play of Celentano could be looked at as one of the biggest turning points in the season.

Best two results of the season

Kentucky and Michigan have looked like the two best teams that IU has played the entire season. 

IU and Kentucky played to a scoreless draw in Bloomington as both defenses stymied the opposing offense. IU couldn’t get around the size of Kentucky’s backline while Kentucky had a hard time with IU’s midfield. It was a grueling battle, almost Elite Eight-esque, but a challenge IU needed.

It returned to winning ways the following Sunday against Michigan with a goal from Spencer Glass in the second half to make the difference. Ahead of a match at Maryland, it looked like IU was finally separating itself from the conference pack halfway through the Big Ten slate.

College Park

Just as IU began to find its stride, it all came to a screeching halt in College Park. Maryland dominated IU at home in front of more than 4,800 fans on a cold Friday night.

It was a night where IU never found its footing. Outside of a 15-minute period where Maryland scored all three goals, it was an even match, but IU could never make up the difference in a 3-0 loss. 

Momentum building

The question following Maryland was how IU would respond to its worse defeat in over a year.

The answer: a 14-2 goal differential over its final four games of the season; all victories. 

IU easily dispatched of Evansville, Rutgers, Ohio State and Michigan State to secure the Big Ten regular season title for a second straight year and to win some momentum heading into this week’s Big Ten tournament. 

Indiana is 12-2-3 heading into the Big Ten tournament. It will meet Rutgers or Ohio State in Sunday’s quarterfinal match.

Rematches against Maryland, Penn State or Michigan remain on the horizon, but IU is taking it one game at a time with the understanding that the Big Ten double is just three games away.

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