Stepping out in brand new retro-inspired uniforms this season, Indiana defeated Illinois State 3-1 on opening night.
The pitch was full of talent including freshman Piper Coffield who made her first appearance for the Hoosiers and joined in as part of the starting Xl. There was Paige Webber, a vital member Thursday in every minute that she played being intelligent and working the entire field like a powerhouse. Jaime Gerstenberg was at goal putting up save after save, and returners such as Anna Bennett mixed with newcomers Kennedy Neighbors, Lauren Costello and Elle Britt, being aggressive while making moves on the pitch at all times. It was a different feel for the Indiana team, one that they've worked hard for all off season to get to this point.
Defense was the name of the game early on for IU and it stuck all the way through the first half of Thursday's match. In just seconds of kick-off, where Illinois State had the ball to start, Webber was right on top of it, stealing from Illinois State's Ava Watson. Making an attempt at the goal with no hesitation, Webber put just a bit too much power behind it and missed by a sliver.
Defense for Indiana was out and hungry once Illinois State gained repossession of the ball, shutting off all opportunities for their opponents over and over again. They kept this up the whole first half even with younger players on the field.
Illinois State had the option and opportunity to take advantage of this not-so-conservative Indiana defense but they could not figure it out and were sent back to the drawing board time and time again.
Coming into the second half there was a lot of room for opportunity on both sides and the match could have gone either way. Illinois State definitely showed up with more pressure this time around. The Redbirds had the possible outcome of a first game loss at stake, so they were going to do what was needed to give themselves the best shot they could.
Moves came quickly from Illinois State, swiftly weaving and passing, trying to put off Indiana. Luck was not on their side though, as Gerstenberg — who was very intelligent and present in the box — blocked a powerful shot.
Then Webber put the ball in goal just seconds later. She flipped it over Brown's head and watched as it trickled into the goal, a pure shot of talent. With the score now at 2-0, Indiana had a comfortable lead. Illinois State knew there was a need for action fast if they wanted any chance of staying in the game.
From a corner kick, Illinois State freshman Julie Liguore was able to put it past Gerstenberg for a goal and move her team back into reach.
“We should've made the game easier by going up early and we left this one on the table,” Indiana head coach Erwin van Bennekom said.
About halfway through the second half, the Hoosiers seemed to be scrambling as a group and losing the strong aggressive momentum that they had kept all the way till this point. It was looking almost questionable how much longer they could hold up.
Keeping the hope alive, Costello came up with Indiana’s third goal. This is Costello's first goal for Indiana. She transferred from LaSalle and is new to the team this season. Illinois State did not pull enough together to put another ball in the goal, and Indiana held on to win its first game of the regular season, 3-1.
On Thursday, Indiana looked like a different team than last season. The style, aggression and scoring is all a growth and change from where IU was last season.
Underclassmen are able to get in the game and play hard while also working smartly to set up the upperclassmen well on the field so they can make efficient moves.There’s intelligence and a new spark for this team, some might even say refreshing. While not entirely happy with the goal that Indiana let up, van Bennekom was in a good mood overall postgame.
“After a season like last year, scoring those goals and creating those chances is what we needed,” van Bennekom said. “I am very happy with the results.”
Van Bennekom talked about how it helps them make the games a little easier for themselves when they come out attacking early and it is a part of this new standard, pressing for higher.
“Anna Bennett’s probably playing her best soccer that she's played here so far,” van Bennekom said. “And Kennedy, I think she has to learn a lot of things but she's definitely having an impact.”
Van Bennekom also touched on Costello, saying he didn't expect that when bringing in a transfer player like her she would have two assists and a goal right off the bat in her debut.
Coming up next
Virginia Tech will test its luck on Sunday in Bloomington against Indiana. The Hokies were north in Indianapolis facing Butler on Thursday night and also won their season opener 3-0. Last time these two programs faced each other was in 2022. While resulting in a tie between both teams that time, the all-time record for Indiana facing Virginia Tech stands at 1-2-1.