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Indiana forward Anna Bennett prepares for a corner kick during Indiana's match against Ball State on Aug. 26. (HN photo/Daniel Rodriguez)
Indiana forward Anna Bennett prepares for a corner kick during Indiana's match against Ball State on Aug. 26. (HN photo/Daniel Rodriguez)

Indiana women’s soccer season preview, part 2: Looking forward

The Hoosiers will rely on a huge influx of new talent this season.

With head coach Erwin van Bennekom at the helm, Indiana’s women’s soccer team is primed for continued success this season. While the addition of a myriad of new talent could initially be a challenge, it may very well prove to be the X-factor that the Hoosiers needed. Although the upcoming season is filled with plenty of unknowns, here’s what we do know so far: 

The schedule

The Hoosiers have a tough schedule this season — but that comes as no surprise. Indiana women’s soccer will face five teams that are currently ranked in the United Soccer Coaches Division I preseason poll. 

The Hoosiers will start the season off with two pre-season matches — one conference matchup against Northwestern and one non-conference matchup against Miami (OH). Each of these matches will be an excellent chance to explore Indiana’s chemistry, as the roster features 12 new players, with 10 freshmen joining the team in addition to two transfers. 

“It’s going to be a steep learning curve, real quick,” van Bennekom said of the approaching pre-season exhibition games. 

The Hoosiers will then take a road trip as they face West Virginia and Virginia Tech on the road to start the regular season. West Virginia is a talented squad to watch out for, as they went 10-5-5 last season and feature fifth-year star Jordan Brewster, who is ranked No. 43 on TopDrawerSoccer’s ranking for best women’s players nationally. 

Virginia Tech had a 12-6-2 record in 2021 and finished eighth in the ACC. The two teams haven’t met since 2016 when the Hokies won in a 3-0 shutout. 

Indiana then returns home for three local teams to visit. The Hoosiers first face Ball State, then continue with two more in-state teams in Indiana State and Notre Dame. The Irish finished last season ranked No. 16 in the NCAA Top 25. The team had its best record since 2014 and fell to Arkansas in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament. Notre Dame is currently ranked No. 16 in the pre-season poll. 

Indiana gets back on the road for a Sept. 8 matchup against Louisville, before coming back home for its last two non-conference matches against Memphis and Trine. The Tigers were a powerhouse last season, finishing 14-5-2 and No. 20 in the United Soccer Coaches’ final ranking. Now, the Tigers are ranked No. 22 in the pre-season poll. They were able to top IU last August with a 1-0 shutout, so this will be an important way to end the non-conference schedule for the Hoosiers.

As the conference schedule heats up, the Hoosiers take on one of their toughest opponents in the Penn State Nittany Lions. The team went 12-8-1 last year, beating key opponents such as Virginia, Wisconsin and the Hoosiers. Last year, Indiana was shut out 3-0 in this matchup. This season, Penn State will be just as dangerous, currently holding the No. 14 spot in the pre-season rankings. 

“They’ve been powerhouses in the Big Ten for a really long time, and I think as we’ve grown with Erwin, as a team, and with our culture becoming better, we’ve gained the confidence that we can actually hang with them,” senior midfielder Alaina Kalin said of the matchup.  

The Big Ten slate continues through the end of September, where Indiana will play Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio State. The Badgers made it to the Sweet Sixteen last season and remain a force to be reckoned with. The Buckeyes lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and during the regular season tied 1-1 with the Hoosiers in a double-OT matchup. 

October features match-ups with Nebraska, Rutgers, Michigan State, Purdue, Maryland and Michigan to clean up the regular season schedule. Rutgers was a beast last season, finishing 19-4-2 and with a 2-0 win atop Indiana. They fell in the semi-finals of last year’s NCAA tournament to No. 1 Florida State. This season, they’re ranked among the best, sitting at No. 6 in the pre-season poll. 

As usual, Purdue is another rivalry matchup that promises to be among the most important matches of the season. Last year, Purdue won at home, but this year it’ll be the Hoosiers with the home-field advantage. Indiana will finish its regular season with a strong Michigan team on Oct. 23. The Wolverines went 18-4-3 last season, featuring a 0-0 tie with the Hoosiers. The regular-season closer in Ann Arbor will definitely be a match to watch, as the Wolverines hold the No. 9 spot in the pre-season rankings.  

“If you just look at history, Penn State, Rutgers, Michigan, West Virginia and Virginia Tech, those [teams] are top tier,” van Bennekom said. “We have no easy games. It’s a lot of teams that have a lot of history and have done well last year. We have so many good opportunities to get quality wins and results, and I think that’s the best thing about the schedule.”

The new additions

The team will welcome 10 new freshmen along with two transfers for the upcoming 2022 season. With a drastically different team, let’s briefly take a look at the new additions. 

Sarah Sirdah (Forward; Duluth, Georgia): 

  • Called up to the U20 Mexican National Team 

  • Played on the U17 team that came in third in the Girls Academy National Tournament

  • 2022 region forward of the year 

Olivia Albert (Defender; East Lansing, Michigan):

  • Logged game time for MUFC in the United Women’s Soccer league this summer

  • Midwest United Team Captain for four years

Arianna Rose (Defender; Brampton, Ontario): 

  • Competed for Team Canada starting at 15 years old

Shea O’Malley (Midfielder, Soph.; Cary, North Carolina):

  • Appeared in seven matches last season for Ole Miss

  • Was ranked No. 25 recruit in nation (TopDrawerSoccer)

  • Called up to US U17 Women’s National Team and made six starts

Izzy Smith (Midfielder; Birmingham, Alabama):

  • Led her high school with 24 goals in 2020-21 season, has 23 goals and 10 assists in 2021-22 season

  • Team captain and MVP of her Mountain Brook High School team in 2020-21 and 2021-22

  • First Team All-State honoree and First Team All-Metro

  • 2022 Gatorade Alabama Girls Soccer POY

Marisa Grzesiak (Forward; Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin): 

  • All-Conference Honorable Mention in 2019 and First Team All-Conference honoree in 2021

  • Graduated early and joined Hoosiers for 2022 spring season 

Olivia Smith (Midfielder; Fishers, Indiana): 

  • First Team All-State (Senior) and Second Team All-State (Junior)

  • Selected to Central Region USA Team as a senior

Jaelyn Pallas (Midfielder; Gilbert, Arizona):

  • Two-time All Premier Region First Team honoree and All Premier Region Offensive POY

  • Selected First Team All-Conference and Team MVP

Olivia Rush (Midfielder; Troy, Michigan): 

  • 2019 ECNL Player to Watch

  • 2020-21 ECNL First Team Midwest Conference selection

Abbey Iler (Forward; Zionsville, Indiana): 

  • At Zionsville Community, her 38 goals rank as a top-five scorer in program history

  • Three-time All-Conference honoree for Hoosier Crossroad Conference

  • Earned First-team All-State honors twice

Natasha Kim (Defender; Summit, New Jersey): 

  • 2021 ECNL North Atlantic Conference POY and 2021 ECNL All-American

Yoshiki Kitadai (Midfielder, Jr.; Kochi, Japan)

  • Played two seasons at Iowa Western (Nine goals, three assists, 21 points)

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Improvements and expectations

The team looks to improve its offensive power this season, while maintaining its prior defensive strength. On paper, the team looks extremely promising, but with so many newcomers, it’s hard to predict specific upgrades from last year’s roster. 

“I think we’ll be deeper, [more] balanced, we’ll have some athleticism up front that’s going to help us, and I think we’ve got some creativity,” van Bennekom said. “We added some people that can play final passes, which we’ve lacked a little bit. I think we’ll be young, but a lot of teams in the country will be young, because of the fifth-year COVID seniors that have graduated. With those components, we’ll be a little bit better going forward at scoring some goals, we’ll be tough defensively and hard to score on. Going forward, we’ve got to improve on scoring a little bit more goals and winning games that we have a chance of winning.”

The expectations will simply be to take another step forward, as van Bennekom has continued to do during his time at Indiana. 

“We were on the cusp of making the NCAA tournament the last two seasons,” van Bennekom said. “I think we were one win away last year, so I just want to take another step closer.”

Who will step up?

The starting lineup is still unknown, as the team continues to shape itself in the early days. It’s likely going to be a battle between Bethany Kopel and Jamie Gerstenberg for the starting goalkeeper spot. Kopel had been the starter for four years, but missing last season with an injury opened the door for Gerstenberg to have a great season in goal. This season, Kopel is back and healthy, so the battle for the starting job will be a tough decision. 

As for the new additions who may make an impact early on, van Bennekom highlights the fact that no one has a spot just yet. Everyone will have to earn their place. He mentioned that Izzy Smith, Arianna Rose and Shea O’Malley stand out early. 

“I’m excited to see who steps up and claims a spot or heavy load of minutes,” van Bennekom said. 

The first chance to see this team in action comes soon, with a pre-season exhibition game against Miami (OH) on Aug. 6.

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