Somehow, some way, we've made it to the end of No. 5 IU men's soccer's regular season. Despite a slip-up at Northwestern and match cancellations against Penn State and Maryland, the Hoosiers' steadiness has earned them a third-straight Big Ten Regular Season Title and 17th overall in program history.
In this week's edition of The Q49 Journal, we'll explore IU's unconventional regular season, Spencer Glass' season-ending injury and what it means for IU, and take a deep-dive into Roman Celentano's breakthrough season in net.
Regular season finale cancelled, Hoosiers win Big Ten title
Before we get in too deep, here's a fun anecdote: I had typed out this entire edition of The Q49 Journal on Saturday afternoon which included an in-depth preview of the Maryland match, and within minutes of hitting publish, IU announced its regular season finale against Maryland was cancelled and, by default, the Hoosiers were Big Ten champions for a third-straight season. Needless to say I had unpublish and rewrite the entire story.
Such is a life in a COVID world, right?
Anyways, No. 5 Indiana has secured the three-peat and ends the regular season atop the Big Ten with a 7-1 record, narrowly edging Penn State. It's certainly going to be a tough pill to swallow for the Nittany Lions because they never got a chance to play the Hoosiers due to a cancellation earlier in the season, and IU still would've needed a draw or a win against Maryland to outright clinch the title.
However, because of the uncertainty of this season and the cancellations that were sure to pile up, the conference pivoted away from its normal standings and instead awarded the regular season title to the team with highest average points per game. Thus, IU's 2.62 points per game topped Penn State's 2.38 points per game despite both teams finishing with just one loss this season.
For the fans it's also a shame that they never got to see IU and Penn State square off in what likely would have decided the conference champion. The Nittany Lions have been terrific this year, especially goalkeeper Kris Shakes and defender Brandon Hackenberg, and they likely would have been the Hoosiers' stiffest competition in conference play.
The cancelled rivalry matchup against Maryland also stings for both sides involved. For Indiana, winning the conference crown after a hard-fought match is probably more exhilarating than winning it due to semantics and circumstances out of their control — though, I'm sure they're more than happy to be raising that trophy regardless of how it happened. For the Terrapins, a win over the Hoosiers would have been a significant boost to their NCAA Tournament hopes, which are in murky waters after a 4-3-1 campaign.
All this being said, Indiana now shifts its focus to the Big Ten Tournament where the Hoosiers own the top seed and will retain home-field advantage through the entirety of their tournament run. Whereas in a normal year the Big Ten would designate a neutral site for the tournament to take place, this season the higher seed of each matchup is the host team.
The conference tournament gets underway with the quarterfinals on Saturday, April 10, the semifinals on Wednesday, April 14, and the final on Saturday, April 17.
Indiana will open tournament play against the winner of the 8-seed vs. 9-seed match, which likely will be Northwestern and Wisconsin.
Spencer Glass out for the season, now what?
Indiana suffered a huge blow last Saturday when redshirt senior defender and co-captain Spencer Glass was carted off the field midway through a Big Ten showdown against Michigan. While the Hoosiers escaped Ann Arbor with a double-overtime win thanks to Ryan Wittenbrink's golden goal, a dark cloud of uncertainty still remained as Hoosier fans awaited Glass' prognosis.
Then came an announcement on Thursday afternoon from IU head coach Todd Yeagley that confirmed the worst-case scenario for Glass and the Hoosiers.
"[Spencer] has broken his leg in the game against Michigan, so he will be out the rest of the season," Yeagley said in a Zoom press conference. "He had his procedure done on Sunday. The medical staff did a great job in getting the bone back together, if you will.
"His spirits are really high for all things considered, and we certainly hope to raise a trophy for him on Sunday."
Two things immediately became apparent when Glass exited the Michigan game: IU's restarts and corners were less crisp, and the backline has some glaring depth issues.
To the former point, Glass was tabbed as IU's primary corner-kick and free-kick initiator, but with him out, Joe Schmidt and others took on that role to varying degrees of success. Several of the second half and overtime corner kicks against Michigan were noticeably less sharp without Glass. However, I wouldn't expect for this to be a long-term issue as Yeagley and his coaching staff sort things out.
The backline depth, though, is a bit concerning. Starting right back Nyk Sessock has battled a leg injury all season, which sidelined him against Michigan, and now Glass' season-ending injury creates holes on both flanks. Against the Wolverines, Yeagley made the impromptu decision to insert sophomore Maouloune Goumballe at right back, a position Goumballe has never trained a minute at according to Yeagley, and Brett Bebej at left back, again a relatively new position.
At this point in the season, it's going to be all-hands-on-deck as Indiana tries to navigate the injuries.
"We're not quite sure what we're going to yet," Yeagley said, "and quite honestly we've had some other injuries on the backline, and we don't know what we're going to do, but we'll figure it out."
Based on Yeagley's comments, it's unclear what the Hoosiers will do along the backline and in the midfield going forward. It is possible that Goumballe and Bebej remain at the two fullback positions while others like Ben Yeagley, A.J. Palazzolo, Joe Schmidt, and Quinten Helmer continue to rotate in the midfield.
Or, best-case scenario, Sessock returns to full health soon, slots in at right back, and alleviates some of the depth issues.
Nonetheless, Indiana still has big goals to accomplish this season, but Glass' injury won't make the road any easier going forward.
"[Spencer] came up to the video session [Thursday] with a smile on his face, and he just wants to see us do well," Yeagley said. "He wants to see the work he's put in finish. He wants to see it finished.
"And that's the job of this group is to finish the work that Spencer and the guys before him did... that's the best way to honor a teammate that's injured."
Roman Celentano's stellar sophomore season
Sophomore goalkeeper Roman Celentano hasn't just been good this year for Indiana, he's been among the nation's elite all season long. Among all Division 1 NCAA goalkeepers, Celentano ranks third in shutouts (6), 4th in save percentage (93.5%), and 6th in average goals against (.246).
The Naperville, Ill., native's meteoric breakthrough has been a bit of a welcome surprise for IU's coaching staff.
"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 though it might take a while."
Rated a two-star prospect in the 2019 class according to Top Drawer Soccer, Celentano was initially viewed as more
of a project than an instant plug-and-play goalkeeper a la Trey Muse. However, when then-starter Sean Caulfield struggled in net in 2019, Celentano was quickly thrust into a starting role and never looked back.
The sizable minutes he played as a true freshman and the belief of the coaching staff early on has since parlayed into the development of a premier goalkeeper.
"We saw a lot of potential in Roman," Yeagley said. "He was a late bloomer, and we typically like to find those in goalkeepers in particular, but Roman didn't even take over starting his club goalkeeping starting job until, really, late junior year."
Well it's a good thing Indiana decided to pull the trigger and take a chance on Celentano because he's rewarding Indiana handsomely. Even in halves or full matches where Indiana looked to be out of sorts this season, Celentano's rock-solid dependability and long, 6-foot-3 frame has been a crucial security blanket.
Especially as the Hoosiers head into the final match of the regular season and into the postseason, they're going to need Celentano to continue swatting away shots at a torrid pace if multiple pieces of championship hardware remain in the team's future.
"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."