Indiana men's soccer operates like a factory -- bringing in green, unseasoned freshmen and spitting out professional-ready players four or five years later. It's a system that has allowed the Hoosiers to remain atop college soccer's kingdom despite losing impact players on an annual basis.
But Tommy Mihalic isn't your typical freshman. He arrived in Bloomington last spring, watched and studied from the sidelines as Indiana fell just one game short of a ninth national title, and knew his moment would eventually come.
On Sunday night against Wisconsin, Mihalic's moment finally came in the 106th minute, penning his name alongside some of the dramatic golden-goals in recent memory at Bill Armstrong Stadium.
A well-played cross into the six-yard box from Ryan Wittenbrink. A heroic header from Brett Bebej to keep the ball inbounds. A perfectly-placed pass from Daniel Munie over the top of Wisconsin goalkeeper Carter Abbott. That's what it took to set up the game-winner.
And then there was Mihalic, who never gave his next move a second thought: "I knew once Munie got the header on net, it followed me and I got there at the right time."
The 5-foot-11 midfielder, calm, cool and composed, squirmed past Wisconsin's last line of defense and buried the golden goal with a simple flick of his head.
Cue the pandemonium.
Tommy Mihalic [@tommymihalic10] wins it in the 106th minute.
Indiana is one win away from a fourth consecutive Big Ten regular season title. #iums pic.twitter.com/N1xfPcfXGd
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) October 24, 2021
After 105 minutes of slipping and sliding their way on a rain-soaked Jerry Yeagley Field, the Hoosiers had finally put away the Badgers, 1-0, in the penultimate Big Ten match of the regular season.
But who could have predicted that Mihalic, after trudging through 58 minutes of an all-out dogfight against a veteran Wisconsin side, would emerge as the night's hero? Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley certainly wasn't surprised.
"He was one of the attackers earlier in the season that was kind of frustrated," Yeagley said, "because the goals weren't coming. He was a little out of sorts. But he worked through it like a lot of the other guys, and Tommy's been key to our team this year."
If you've watched Mihalic's development throughout this season, though, Sunday's result likely won't come as a shock to you either.
In fact, this wasn't even Mihalic's first taste of a go-ahead goal -- or his second for that matter. In his college debut against Notre Dame on Aug. 27, the Skokie, Illinois, native immediately entrenched himself into the minds of Hoosier fans and Big Ten foes by netting a pair of goals. For his efforts he was awarded Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week.
Then, against Ohio State on Oct. 12, Mihalic did it again with one of the more impressive and savvy finishes you'll ever see from a freshman.
18' | Side netting. @tommymihalic10 | #IUMS pic.twitter.com/7iZf3Xohpf
— Indiana Men's Soccer (@IndianaMSOC) October 12, 2021
The smaller moments in Mihalic's career eventually added up, compounding on top of one another like a volcano waiting to explode.
"I think the spring helped him when he was here early," Yeagley said. "He got to see us play and understand just kind of how we do things in the front half. And now the guys are just more comfortable with him."
The comfortability aspect is perhaps the biggest catalyst for Mihalic's breakout. Whether it's his understanding of how to play within himself and his teammates, or being more decisive in his movements on and off the ball, Mihalic said he's gained the assurance of his veteran counterparts.
"I kind of feel more trust throughout the team, from the older guys," Mihalic said. "Spence, obviously with him playing left-back and me left wing, there's obviously a lot of communication between us, too. So I feel like he's definitely gained a lot more trust in me."
And the trust has been apparent, culminating in Mihalic's eruption that no one -- not the Big Ten and evidently not Wisconsin -- could contain anymore.
A goal and an assist against Trine University.
A bending, winding goal in the 18th minute against Ohio State.
And then Wisconsin happened.
"This one's probably a favorite," Mihalic said with a wide smile. "To win the game, nothing's bigger than that."
Yeagley echoed the sentiment: "That was a beautiful goal in many ways; how the little details were really good in that play and we stayed with it."
For the Hoosiers to reach the proverbial ninth start this season, it was always going to take a collection of players stepping up. After all, there was only so much that Victor Bezerra could do to follow up his historic 2020-21 season. But the question in the offseason was who? If not Bezerra, then who?
Sunday night, Indiana might've officially found its who.
The freshman who, on his own accord, decided to skip his final semester of high school and plunge head-first into one of college soccer's premier programs.
The freshman who paid his dues by sitting on the bench for the entirety of the spring season.
The freshman who waited for his moment and bided his time -- until it was his time on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021 at approximately 6:30 p.m. ET.
Yeagley can only sum up the freshman in four succinct words: "He is just mature,"