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‘Ride that bike, Roman Celentano’: Sophomore seals IU’s 15th Big Ten Tournament title

Roman Celentano knew what he would do. He visualized it days ago. The moment after he swatted away Penn State’s final penalty kick to secure IU men’s soccer’s 15th Big Ten Tournament championship. The ball rifling to his left, his body diving, sprawling, extending in the same direction. The celebration.

“I thought a little bit about it,” Celentano said after the match. “I just visualized winning and what I’d do after.”

It was a familiar scene for the sophomore goalkeeper — the fate of the Hoosiers’ conference tournament hopes riding on his shoulders.

In 2019, Celentano found himself in net as IU edged Michigan, 4-3, in penalty kicks to claim its 14th Big Ten Tournament title. In 2021, the circumstances were nearly identical, only this time Celentano could dictate the outcome. His chance to etch himself into IU lore.

IU sophomore goalkeeper Roman Celentano has conceded just two goals all season. (IU Athletics)

So there Celentano stood, toes on the end line, body upright, eyes fixed on his prey, never tipping off which way he’d dive. Penn State’s Callum Pritchatt lined up opposite, his left foot making one last determination of where the ball would end up.

“For most of these guys it’s more just feeling them out and seeing how they’re standing and how they’re lining up for the shot and where they’re going to go,” Celentano said. “So it’s a mixture of both, the educated guess and feeling it out.”

Celentano’s instincts were all he needed. Pritchatt’s shot darted right, the 6-foot-3 goalkeeper matched it step for step, and the celebration was on. IU players poured out onto the field, all headed for the one dressed in red and black.

Celentano returned the favor, busting out an old dance move from the proverbial shed out back. “Ride that bike, Roman Celentano!” said Dean Linke on Big Ten Network’s broadcast of the match. It was the same celebration he used after IU’s tournament-clinching win over Michigan just a season ago.

But to even get to this point — hoisting four total Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles — is a feat in itself for Celentano.

Before committing to IU and making his way to Bloomington in 2019, the Naperville, Illinois, native was largely under-recruited and overlooked. He was rated a two-star prospect, according to Top Drawer Soccer. Not until late in his junior season did he even start for his high school club team, Sockers FC.

This was the kid that was supposed to replace star goalkeeper Trey Muse? A little-heard-of recruit succeeding a First Team All-American and future Major League Soccer pro? Todd Yeagley, you have to be crazy, right?

Nope, not one bit.

From the moment IU’s coaching staff laid eyes on the slender, long, unconventional-looking prospect, they knew they had found a potential gem.

“We saw a lot of potential in Roman,” IU head coach Todd Yeagley said in a press conference on April 1. “He was a late bloomer, and we typically like to find those in goalkeepers in particular.”

He had a distinct body type not too dissimilar from successful goalkeepers of IU’s past. Muse: 6-foot-4, 195 pounds. Colin Webb: 6-foot-1, 190 pounds. Luis Soffner: 6-foot-4, 210 pounds. The list goes on.

And while the physical traits immediately jumped out during IU’s recruitment of Celentano, it was the intangibles that solidified his belonging in a program that prides itself on defense and top-tier goalkeeping.

“We saw a kid that had a lot of promise,” Yeagley said, “and then you get to know him, and he’s hardworking, humble, just everything we’re looking for, for character.”

But even his makeup couldn’t possibly predict what kind of player Celentano would eventually become, at least not so early in his career.

At first, in 2019, the plan was for redshirt senior Sean Caulfield to start in net while Celentano trained and matured. Things didn’t go quite as planned, however, as Celentano received his first start on Nov. 1 at Northwestern, and he never relinquished the role.

For a player who was initially tabbed as a development project, he was instead thrown into the deep end as a true freshman, forced to learn to swim or sink.

“Once we started working with him, I’m not surprised he made the jump that he’s made,” Yeagley said. “But in the recruiting process, we thought it might take a while.”

The belief and trust in Celentano culminated in Saturday night’s dramatic Big Ten Tournament final.

Penn State’s first shot: MISS

Second shot: MISS

Third shot: MADE

Fourth shot: MADE

Fifth shot: The diving save that forever inks Celentano’s name into the vast annals of IU men’s soccer history.

From two-star recruit to Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year; ride that bike, Roman Celentano. Ride it.

“We clearly don’t always get it right,” Yeagley said. “He’s been wonderful since the day he arrived.”

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