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Indiana head coach Erwin van Bennekom stands with his team after a scoreless draw against No. 8 Penn State on Sept. 18. (HN photo/Eden Snower)
Indiana head coach Erwin van Bennekom stands with his team after a scoreless draw against No. 8 Penn State on Sept. 18. (HN photo/Eden Snower)

A rocky Indiana women’s soccer season in review: The Good, the Bad and the Very Ugly

Goals were hard to come by, to say the least

If you followed Indiana women’s soccer throughout its recently concluded season, kudos! But also, I offer my condolences: you may have suffered through some absolute slogs of matches.

It brings me little joy to recount the futile scoring efforts that defined the Hoosiers’ 2022 campaign, but here we are. To preface, this is not meant to slight head coach Erwin van Bennekom’s squad in the slightest. After all, they are an extremely young group who had little to no experience playing together prior to the season.

Still, I tend to agree with legendary NFL coach Bill Parcells in saying, “You are what your record says you are.” Finishing 3-7-7 and 1-7-2 in the Big Ten, it’s difficult to scrounge up silver linings.

The season can largely be boiled down into three chronological segments: the amusing stretch of scoreless draws, the dark conference slate and the light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s break them down.

A whole lot of scoreless draws

On the road against West Virginia to kick off the season, we got the first glimpse into the Hoosiers' identity, or maybe lack thereof. After sitting back and not making a ton of effort to formulate threatening chances, Indiana settled for a 0-0 draw with the Mountaineers.

Three days later, the team drove a few hours south to Blacksburg, Virginia to face off against Virginia Tech. A career-high eight saves from sophomore goalkeeper Jamie Gerstenberg warded off the Hokies’ attack and kept the match even at zero. For the second time in three days, the Hoosiers played to a scoreless draw and totaled a meager eight shots.

While neither opposition was exactly a juggernaut, it was admittedly a difficult way to start the season with two quick road trips. A home clash with Ball State was next on the docket. Surely the Hoosiers would find the back of the net against the Cardinals, right?

Well, if you guessed no, you would have been correct. Two hundred and seventy minutes into the season, the Hoosiers both conceded and scored zero goals. A trio of scoreless draws before September may seem insignificant. And truthfully, it felt it at the time. The backline was stout and disciplined, and even if they faltered, it was a guarantee that Gerstenberg would save the day.

There was an underlying sense that the attack would just figure things out eventually. In consecutive contests against Louisville and Memphis, however, the Hoosiers played to another pair of scoreless draws, good for their fourth and fifth of the season before conference play even rolled around.

Yikes. A really rough stretch of conference matches

The first match of the Hoosiers’ conference slate actually sparked some optimism. A 0-0 draw against an at-the-time No. 8 Penn State side saw some Gerstenberg magic, solid backline play and most notably, energy and explosion on the attack.

Then, the season spiraled. But before we soldier on and plunge into some dark times, I invite you to look back and cherish the quirk that was Indiana’s propensity for scoreless draws. Things are about to get ugly.

Getting into the specifics feels like adding insult to injury. In six matches from Sept. 22 to Oct. 13, the Hoosiers were outscored 13-0. While they certainly weren’t thrashed throughout the entire streak, aside from rough losses to Minnesota and Ohio State, Indiana didn’t seem particularly competitive either.

The backline regressed from its early season domination and became prone to untimely lapses, the attack continued its stagnancy and Gerstenberg simply could not carry the team herself. Funnily enough, arguably the closest of the losses came in the form of a very tight 1-0 defeat to Michigan State, the Big Ten regular-season champion and No. 6 team in the country.

Finally, some goals

Of course, far and away the Hoosiers' best offensive performance of the season came against the Purdue Boilermakers. The 2-2 draw far from salvaged a disappointing season, but the celebration that ensued after Indiana snapped its scoreless drought was a welcoming sight.

While they concluded their home slate with a loss to Maryland that brought a renewed numbing feeling, the Hoosiers performed admirably in the season finale. Courtesy of a first-half goal from freshman midfielder Ava Akeel, Indiana notched its sole conference win of the season with the very last chance it had.

Graduate student goalkeeper Bethany Kopel started the match and kept the scoresheet clean in the final outing of her college career, a bittersweet moment for the Hoosier stalwart.

Final thoughts

Plain and simple, the group fell below expectations and van Bennekom’s standards. Scoring .65 goals per match, dead last in the Big Ten by a considerable margin, cannot happen again.

To take a positive spin, though, this group will graduate very few pieces. Nine members of the usual starting XI figure to return to Bloomington next fall. With added experience and chemistry for the underclassmen and some adversity under their belt, who knows? Maybe the Hoosiers can make some noise in 2023.

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