The countdown is on with just a few more days till the official start of women's soccer in college athletics. Indiana head coach Erwin van Bennekom and his team will welcome in the season home at Bill Armstrong Stadium in Bloomington, Indiana against Illinois State on Thursday, Aug. 17. With the official start anxiously looming, the Hoosiers will try to write a new narrative after what happened in the 2022 fall season.
Last year Indiana finished 3-7-7 on the entire season, 1-7-2 In Big Ten play. In a press conference this spring, van Bennekom described it as a “disappointing season” for the team but that, “as soon as we started training again after last season I felt the group was in for a change, and we all changed.”
These described changes and new strategies included attacking and playing as individuals and team without hesitation. Spring 2023 was a new opportunity for Indiana to take what it had been working on and apply it. In those changes the group was able to find success and change the narrative as a whole.
Of the five games, IU came out with a record of 4-0-1. IU scored 13 goals and allowed none. This was a real push for the group to go from what happened in the fall and flourish into a new model of themselves.
When asked about what a successful 2023 fall season would look like, van Bennekom said, “I really make a conscious effort to not really talk about, you know, outcome goals,” and that “(the) unfortunate point about soccer is you can play really, really well and do all the little things well and still lose.”
It seems that with the team this season there is not just a focus on wanting to win, being better, and aiming for that top of the bracket. But van Bennekom stressed a focus on adjusting, growing and evolving as individuals, and forming a group to create that success with better outcomes and consistency then what was seen before.
August exhibition matches went underway last week. Both matches against Ball State and Bellmarine were extensions of what was displayed last spring. Indiana scored four goals across the two games, while its opponents had a combined number of zero. Bellarmine was a part of the 2023 five-game spring series, however not much changed. Indiana won 3-0 both times. These outcomes expanded on Indiana’s new themes of change and growth.
“I think we're in a really good place and really happy with where we are at,” van Bennekom said in an interview.
Van Bennekom described how proud he was of the team for doing their work over the summer that it really showed. And that they will continue to grow in confidence as they keep taking the steps forward to improve and see results.
Junior midfielder Sydney Masur also commented on the matches in an interview. Masur talked highly of the team returners giving them credit for being a crucial part of the team's change in many different aspects. Expanding on this, Masur credited the coaching staff saying they've got a plan and they're ready to use it.
“Everyone’s super fired up,” Masur said. “There's a little bit of revenge that people want to get.”
Keeping an eye out
Ahead of the season's start the Big Ten conference dropped its preseason watch list on Tuesday afternoon. Among the 43 student athletes that were voted on by coaches in the conference, three of Indiana's own made it on the list: junior goalkeeper Jamie Gerstenberg, senior defender Zoe Tiger and graduate student forward Paige Webber.
For Tiger and Webber, this is the first time both have made it onto the list. Gerstenberg, however, is no stranger as she was selected last season as a sophomore in the fall as a preseason watch.
Each individual had standout seasons that affirmed them onto the list. Tiger across 14 games last fall played over 800 minutes, not allowing any goals as a defender in 788 of those minutes played. Starting in 13 out of the 17 total games she played in last year Webber led a team high of 23 shots, nine of those being goals.
As goalie Gerstenberg raked in 52 saves with a .77 goals against average across the 14 games that she appeared in sophomore year. She was also responsible as goalkeeper in six of eight shutouts last year for Indiana, all while succeeding a record high eight saves in a single game and earning Big Ten Goalkeeper of the week twice and Big Ten Third Team in the process.
Into the future
Having returners, including many of the previous starting XI, is also going to help with the team this season. Indiana was young in 2022. With another year of experience and a renewed focus on both individual and group growth be enough to get Indiana on the map this fall? That's up for the next couple months to decide.
A clean slate for Indiana and time to recoup may be just what the Hoosiers needed for this season to be a change from 2022. For now the anticipation sits on the outcome of those first 90 minutes on Thursday.