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Indiana forward Ryan Wittenbrink drives during Indiana's 4-1 win over Northwestern on Sept. 28. (HN photo/Eden Snower)
Indiana forward Ryan Wittenbrink drives during Indiana's 4-1 win over Northwestern on Sept. 28. (HN photo/Eden Snower)

Eight straight: Indiana downs Saint Louis 1-0 to advance to Sweet 16 for eighth consecutive season

Ryan Wittenbrink’s team-leading ninth goal was the difference in a tournament run where the Hoosiers are trying to secure their ninth title

You may know the multiple coincidences surrounding Indiana's 2022 NCAA Tournament run. 

Indiana was ranked No. 13 in the United Soccer Coaches preseason poll, then slotted as the No. 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and this is head coach Todd Yeagley's 13th season at the helm. 

Bizarre, right? Well, there's one more to add, which not only ties more numbers together, but unravels a near decade's worth of conquest. 

Indiana has eight national championships all-time. Following a 1-0 victory over Saint Louis in the NCAA Tournament second round Sunday, the team has now reached the Sweet 16 for the eighth consecutive season. That's the longest active streak in Division I men's soccer, a piece of information Yeagley wasn't aware of until after the match. 

"Historically, we've been able to get to a lot of these rounds," Yeagley said postmatch. "And to have the longest current streak (is) great. I specifically don't always ask and look for it because I just want us to be here, and then what we've accomplished, we accomplish." 

To reach that benchmark, Indiana had to best Saint Louis, the only other program to have secured more College Cups than the Hoosiers. Yes, Indiana had the home-field advantage. Yet as Yeagley pointed out, Saint Louis had the benefit of recently playing the first round on Thursday, tasting tournament success, while resting enough before Sunday's match.

Indiana hadn't played since the Big Ten Tournament final one week ago, and in the first 15 minutes of the match, nearly succumbed to Saint Louis' fierce press. The Billikens heavily controlled the midfield within that time frame. Indiana defender Joey Maher barely deflected one shot, that would have found the back of the net, to keep the score level. 

As Saint Louis' fast-paced play receded, the Hoosiers more easily generated chances, holding a 6-4 shot advantage at the break. The Hoosiers’ only shot-on-target came from defender Daniel Munie, whose point-blank attempt was saved amid Saint Louis' early pressure. 

Ten minutes after the break, a deflected corner in the box reached Indiana attacker Karsen Henderlong, who headed the ball right at the crossbar. Yeagley substituted Henderlong to counter Saint Louis' physical backline, and said the forward was close to finishing multiple important plays. 

And really, that's the memo for this match. Both sides combined for 27 shots. The two teams played well enough defensively that it seemed like the first to score would win before the end of regulation. And in fact, that's how the match shaped up, thanks to Indiana's consistent scorer Ryan Wittenbrink. 

During the match, Wittenbrink mainly operated out-wide on the wings, attempting to drive into the box, yet frequently was intercepted by Saint Louis defenders. On one occasion, instead of continuing to push wide toward the baseline of the pitch, Wittenbrink cut into the box. Yeagley said his excitement raised simply seeing Wittenbrink make the move. 

"Witt's doing such a good job of reading the defense, as we call it," Yeagley said. "He's like the quarterback. He's just seeing the second defender in his movement. Is there a pathway to go top of the box, or is there a better pathway to the end line?" 

Wittenbrink took two additional touches, and powerfully struck the ball into the back right corner of the net. The decisive goal came with just 15 minutes remaining. 

"When I score goals, you kind of like blackout a little bit for lack of a better term," Wittenbrink said postmatch. "But yeah, cut in and got a good angle and was able to put it back stick." 

Then, came the celebration. 

"Yeah, I think you guys can see it takes a little bit,” Wittenbrink said. “I just run around for a little bit. Don't really know what to do. And I just think something, I guess. Been penguin a lot this year, a little waddle, but it's just exciting." 

Sunday's goal served as Wittenbrink's team-leading ninth of the season. Wait, Indiana is going for its ninth championship this NCAA Tournament. Double nine, and you get, 18, Wittenbrink's number. Indiana has made the Sweet 16 for the eighth straight season. Double eight, and you get, 16. 

Okay, that's enough. But hey, since Marshall stunned No. 4 Virginia shortly after Indiana's victory, next weekend's Sweet 16 matchup features a rematch from the 2020-21 national championship match, which Indiana lost. Indiana will host Marshall at 6:30 p.m. next Sunday, Nov. 27. The storylines and coincidences keep piling up. 

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