On Thursday night against Maryland, Indiana women’s soccer concluded its home slate in a fashion that has become all too familiar: scoreless. The crowd was sparse, and those in attendance shivered due to the unforgivingly chilly and windy conditions.
Coming into the contest, the Hoosiers were already eliminated from postseason contention. Sitting in dead last in the Big Ten with a measly two points through eight matches, head coach Erwin van Bennekom’s team was forced to seek pride and moral victories as opposed to hardware.
After a 2-2 draw to Purdue in which Indiana notched its first conference goals in over a year, van Bennekom noted that the attack played more direct and strayed from his traditional philosophy. With freshman midfielder Olivia Smith earning Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors after scoring her first collegiate goal, things began to look a bit more promising given the circumstances.
Like the Hoosiers, Maryland has struggled mightily on the attack. In fact, the Terrapins are the only other team to average less than a goal per match. Pitting the two worst offenses in the Big Ten against one another figured to yield a slog, and it did just that.
From the first kick on Thursday night, it was evident that the energy and aggressiveness the Hoosiers displayed against Purdue had vanished. Essentially Indiana’s only threatening chance of the first half came in the ninth minute when junior midfielder Paige Webber made a blistering individual run but could not quite get enough power behind her left-footed strike.
The ensuing segments of the first half, and a majority of the second period, featured sloppy battles for possession with rare spurts of well-worked build-up play. Instead of pushing higher lines and jumping on the front foot as they did against the Boilermakers, the Hoosiers sat back and simply could not work into the attacking third.
In the 86th minute, despite five Indiana substitutions indicating a clear ploy for a last-ditch attacking effort, the Terrapins broke through. Graduate student forward Alyssa Poarch threaded a perfect pass to senior forward Alina Stahl, who was able to slip a low shot past sophomore goalkeeper Jamie Gerstenberg.
Like she always does, Gerstenberg popped up and grabbed the ball to resume play. But for a brief moment, the Germany native sat motionlessly. Despite a few minutes left before the buzzer would harshly sound, the one-goal deficit felt insurmountable.
In a season filled with seemingly endless woes, the Hoosiers had their hearts broken on Thursday night. At home for the final time in 2022, they failed to deliver a goal for the 13th time this season. Van Bennekom repeatedly said the performance wasn’t good enough against the Terrapins, a sentiment he has echoed robotically.
One final chance remains, however. While disappointment set in at perhaps a new level, Indiana can still secure its elusive first Big Ten victory. The team travels to Ann Arbor, Michigan to take on a third straight lackluster opposition in the Michigan Wolverines on Sunday afternoon.
Van Bennekom’s young squad has little to play for on the surface. After a demoralizing loss like that on Thursday, it would be hard to blame the Hoosiers for not putting their best foot forward on Sunday.
However, as is the case with building a program, strong cultures grow with winning. Maybe, by recording its first conference win in over a year, Indiana can salvage some pride and begin to instill a winning mentality.