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The perfect storm: IU advances to 21st College Cup with win over Seton Hall

Ryan Wittenbrink’s goal in the 44th minute helped No. 3-seed Indiana defeat Seton Hall, 2-0, in the NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals on May 10, 2021. (Courtesy of IU Athletics)

There was no dogpile of cream and crimson jerseys Monday night in Cary, North Carolina.

There were no dramatic celebrations or tackling of teammates as the official game clock flashed 90:00 on the scoreboard and referee Carmen Serbio blew the final whistle.

There were no thunderous screams from the voices of the triumphant.

In whichever way you envisioned No. 3-seed Indiana celebrating a 2-0 win over sixth-seeded Seton Hall to advance to its 21st College Cup in program history, throw all that out the window.

Sometimes the best celebration is little celebration at all — especially if the ultimate goal, a ninth national title, is yet to be fulfilled.

“We’re enjoying it, we had some fun times after the game,” IU head coach Todd Yeagley said in a postgame press conference. “…But at the same time, we have the crown jewel, it’s still out there. It’s just a lot closer for us, it’s more tangible.”

However, any hopes of reaching that “crown jewel” almost always need the help of a proverbial perfect storm.

In the second round against St. Francis Brooklyn, the perfect storm came via penalty kicks, when goalkeeper Roman Celentano swatted away three shots to yank the Hoosiers from the brink of an upset.

In the third round against Marquette, Indiana stormed back from a 1-0 deficit at halftime, scoring two unanswered in the second half to squeak past the Golden Eagles.

Monday night in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals, the perfect storm was actually just that — a storm. One that dropped enough buckets of rain onto WakeMed Soccer Park that play had to be paused with 3:16 left in the first half, forcing both sides to retreat to their team busses.

It was a scene that not even Yeagley, who has been around soccer his entire life, has ever quite experienced.

“I’ve been on busses (before) for waiting for things, maybe a halftime, but not for a delay to go the Final Four,” Yeagley said.

The postponement lasted nearly 45 minutes.

In such a unique situation, Yeagley said there wasn’t much else he or the coaching staff could really tell the team that would suddenly change their demeanor.

“Trying to keep them loose the best you can in that scenario, there was no place to go.”

And when the match finally resumed amid an ongoing downpour, there was no guarantee that either side would find the back of the net given the rapidly deteriorating playing surface.

“The field conditions drastically changed,” Yeagley said. “It was tough. I mean, the middle of the field, it was not standing water, but it was pretty close to it.”

No matter how much Mother Nature tried to wreak havoc on the game, though, the Hoosiers refused to succumb. They couldn’t.

Not against a Seton Hall squad that was hell-bent on extending its dream season into the Final Four. Not against an offense as dangerous as the Pirates, who out-shot the Hoosiers, 14-3, and forced the Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year to make six saves.

Despite the 11-shot disparity, three attempts was all Indiana needed to meticulously pick apart Seton Hall’s backline.

Following the lengthy weather delay, IU forward Ryan Wittenbrink broke open the scoreless affair with a snipe in the 44th minute. Dodging and weaving his way atop Seton Hall’s 18-yard box, Wittenbrink unleashed a shot with his right leg that curved past three Pirates’ defenders and the outstretched arms of All-Big East goalkeeper Andrea Nota.

Like the lightning that forced a stoppage in play earlier, the redshirt sophomore’s go-ahead goal was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment.

“The Wittenbrink’s of the world, those are important for us,” Yeagley said. “We’ve got to continue to develop those players and be patient for their time, and he’s done that.”

Armed with a 1-0 lead heading into an abbreviated halftime, Indiana allowed itself to play with a bit more freedom as the pressure and stress waned slightly.

Then, in the 58th minute, the perfect storm struck again. Only this time, it wasn’t Mother Nature’s doing.

It was a dagger from IU senior forward Thomas Warr that put the exclamation point on the Hoosiers’ quarterfinal victory. A perfectly-timed run from sophomore Maouloune Goumballe into the 18-yard box allowed him to find Warr near the opposite goal post who finished off the tap-in goal.

As the final 30 minutes trickled down, a rainbow forming overhead, it seemed like a mass Hoosier celebration was brewing. After all, how could you not celebrate a trip to the College Cup?

Well, when you play for a program that expects more than to just be content with a semifinals appearance, the celebration is subdued.

Sure, there were plenty of smiles, high-fives and hugs to go around, but the real work is still yet to be done, the “crown jewel” yet to be captured.

Indiana’s players know it. Indiana’s coaching staff knows it. Todd Yeagley knows it.

“I told them after (the game), I said ‘you’re kind of leaving your mark. You are leaving your mark. But the ultimate one is still ahead.'”

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