Aidan Morris stood at the NCAA logo on the near sideline, right in front of Indiana’s bench.
Hands above his head, a look of disbelief across his face. His demeanor said it all. The Hoosiers simply couldn’t believe what had unfolded in front of them.
After 100-plus minutes of soccer on a cold, snowy first day of December, one slip by Jordan Kleyn sent IU home for the season. It wasn’t how a game of this magnitude should’ve ended.
But as Kleyn turned around to see UC-Santa Barbara’s Will Baynham pick off the miskicked pass in the open field right in front of the 18-yard box, he knew it.
There was nothing Jack Maher could do to stop it. Nothing Roman Celentano could do either as he dove to his right. Baynham buried his shot into the top right corner of the net.
A magical run for the Gauchos extended by at least one more weekend. The 2019 campaign for IU ended off the right foot of Baynham in a 1-0 loss to UC-Santa Barbara on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s a real gutted locker room because they felt like they had so much more in them,” IU head coach Todd Yeagley said. “It’s going to take a while for the guys to understand what they did. I just told them that I was proud of them. What they did to represent the program especially this year with so many new faces, I thought was incredible.”
A week after IU dismantled Kentucky 3-0 on a rather inviting November afternoon, Sunday couldn’t have been anymore the opposite. Before the match even started, snow began spitting sideways across Bloomington.
The conditions seemed as if they’d favor the home squad against the side from California, but no one would hold favor on a day like Sunday. In a physical, demanding matchup, the two sides were split evenly.
It seemed as though the match were destined to be decided in penalty kicks. It felt awfully similar to the Big Ten Tournament title against Michigan that was decided after two overtime periods. But it never got there. One mistake in the 103rd minute was the deciding factor.
“The wind played a huge factor today,” redshirt junior Spencer Glass said. “Whichever side you were, you could see that people were tending to play long balls closer to everything. Second balls were key. We kind of grew into it in the first half and from then on we knew what we had to do to deal with the elements.”
IU was without the services of center-back Daniel Munie on Sunday afternoon who provided a solid presence on the backline after inserting himself in the Starting XI midway through the season. His presence in a way wasn’t talked about enough through the season.
"That moment is not what defines him or the season."
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) December 1, 2019
Even without him, Kleyn more than held his own for the 100 minutes that he played. There was never any shortage of confidence.
“He’s great but we have all the confidence that (Jordan) Kleyn can step in and do the job,” Maher said. “For 100-plus minutes, he did extremely well. That one slip can’t really define a whole performance. I’ve always had the confidence in him. What he meant in his time here at Indiana is one we’ll remember for a very long time. He really cares about the program.”
This wasn’t the way that any of IU wanted to go out. At a program like IU, it’s national title or bust. But the clock ran out on IU.
In a year where IU consistently did enough to closely get by, it didn’t have one last push left in it. After the match ended, you could see how hard it hurt. None of the players on the pitch left the field. None of the bench players left the dugout.
“I don’t think you say anything,” Glass said. “Everyone is going to take it in their own way and you let them grieve it for a couple days. So I don’t think there’s anything to say at this point. It’s how you respond to this. Off a Round of 16 loss my freshman year, we went to two College Cups. It’s how you learn from it and bounce back.”
Yeagley laughs at the idea of how far this team’s come over the course of the season. Just three months ago, IU was blitzed in the first half of the season opener against Pittsburgh. Sunday, it was one bounce, one play away from at least a third straight Elite 8.
Part of it can be attributed to the play of IU’s captains, Glass and Maher. Throughout the whole season, those two held steady. They started every match right next to each other and both earned double digit point totals.
“Jack (Maher) is clutch and that’s the best way to describe him,” Yeagley said. “He shows up every day to train. And his mentality, the way he gets players to feel confident. The ability to talk to a multitude of different personalities is a gift. We look at his skillset on the field and that’s a gift but he just makes everyone better. That’s the ultimate compliment you can give to someone.”
Maher isn’t ready to look ahead to next season just yet. He knows that it takes some time to get over a loss like this. It was the same way last season when IU fell in the College Cup semifinals to Maryland.
But he knows how special this team was and how good next year’s squad is going to be.
“I think this is just the start for this team,” Maher said. “Indiana is a special place, a special program. We have coaches and players that understand what it takes to win. That’s the main takeaway that we come away with today. We know what it takes to win. It hurts. It’s going to hurt for years to come. But we’re going to learn from it. You can guarantee that.”
"What they did to represent the program…this year in particular…it was incredible."
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) December 1, 2019
Aidan Morris walked back onto Jerry Yeagley Field after everyone had left. With his airpods in, he sat on IU’s bench with his hands in his pockets.
It might’ve been for the final time in his brief but successful IU career.
He kissed his hand and touched the field one last time, putting the final touches on the wild, yet successful IU season.