Penn State held a 28-1-2 all-time record over Indiana women’s soccer, including five straight wins since 2018. Suffice to say, when the Hoosiers hosted the Nittany Lions on Sunday to open conference play, there were clear expectations of what was to come.
However, with eight saves from sophomore goalkeeper Jamie Gerstenberg and yet another rock-solid performance from the Hoosiers’ backline, Indiana played to its sixth scoreless draw of the season. With a nucleus of underclassmen, it was fair to question how composed the Hoosiers would remain against an uber-talented conference opponent.
After walking away with a point, though, head coach Erwin van Bennekom commended his young group for its efforts.
“I think it says a lot with so many freshmen and sophomores playing meaningful minutes,” van Bennekom said after the match. “It says a lot about the potential of this group and what we can do going forward. We have a lot to learn this season, but I think the future is bright.”
The Hoosiers came out of the gate firing. With loads of energy and urgency on the attack, Indiana kept the ball almost entirely in Penn State’s half for the first 15-20 minutes of play.
Freshman defender Natasha Kim was a particular bright spot on the right side of the field. With stout on-ball defending, crisp passes out of the back and a knack for opportunistic positioning, Kim was able to aid the Hoosiers in multiple threatening attacks early on.
As the game progressed, contrary to previous contests, the Hoosiers kept themselves off of their heels and played on the front foot. In the 54th minute, after a curling left-footed shot from Kim went wide of the post, sophomore forward Jordan Levy kept the pressure on with a near miss off of a header near the six-yard box.
Van Bennekom was thrilled with the team’s efforts in the first half of play and credited his assistants for an intensive scouting report on the Nittany Lions.
“I think we scouted them well, and credit to our staff who do an amazing job,” van Bennekom said. “We kind of think about how we’re going to set up defensively and how we’re going to press them and disrupt them, and we did that (in the) first half. We did exactly what we wanted.”
In previous matches, it appeared the team’s fate was at times entirely reliant on Gerstenberg’s heroics. On Sunday, however, the Hoosiers’ backline was often thwarting promising attacks before they turned into dangerous chances.
While Gerstenberg still tallied eight saves and a pair of crucial deflections later in the match, van Bennekom noted the improvement the team made as a whole.
“I thought the defense was much better. The whole team, the way we set up, especially in the first half, was much better than we have,” van Bennekom said. “We relied a little bit less on Jamie, but she still made a couple of key saves to keep us in the game.”
In the Hoosiers’ five other scoreless draws, the attacking struggles were obvious. The team was challenged in building out of the back and stringing together combinations in the attacking third, and they simply created too few chances as a whole.
To disrupt a top-10 team in the country in No. 8 Penn State, and nearly pull away with a win, is a result that van Bennekom feels better about.
“I said to the team after if we didn’t have that many ties, especially 0-0 going into this game, the narrative would be a little different,” van Bennekom said. “I told them to look at this one separate. In the big scheme it’s still another tie, we gotta get some wins, but there are a lot of building things that we can use going forward.”
Next, the Hoosiers will travel to Minneapolis on Thursday to take on Minnesota at 7 p.m. The match will be broadcast on BTN+.