ST. LOUIS – In a game of pronounced efforts and close calls, time ran out on Indiana’s season on Friday night. The Hoosiers lost 2-0 to St. Louis in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, which was IU’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2013.
As the game got underway it was a race between the two teams to get something started. Indiana goalkeeper Jamie Gerstenberg saw a lot of action early on, with St. Louis taking shot after shot.
A penalty kick early in the 11th minute gave St. Louis the break that it had been looking for. Abbie Miller, a midfielder for the Billikens, took and completed the shot into the back of the net past Gerstenberg. This put St. Louis up 1-0.
Indiana scrambled to do the same but could not connect together and find the loopholes through the opposing team in order to do so. It was the Billikens’ ball and they were meeting Indiana at every point of breakthrough and conflict.
In the 25th minute, St. Louis found a breakthrough as midfielder Anna Lawler scored with an assist from teammate Hannah Larson to put the Billikens up 2-0.
The half was closing out, Indiana searched for a break but could not find one before the seconds counted out. It left them to head back into the locker room and figure out a new strategy.
It was now or never for Indiana head coach Erwin van Bennekom and his team if they wanted to stay and advance in the tournament. St. Louis came back out applying the same pressure as before. Gerstenberg had two big saves right in the first few minutes to help Indiana in setting its tone as a team for the rest of the half.
St. Louis was faced with a different team than it had seen in the first half. Indiana was more connected as a group and attacked the net in efforts to try and gain something. St. Louis goalkeeper Emily Puricelli was more challenged by Indiana in this half.
A shot from Anna Bennett early in the second half looked promising for Indiana before Puricelli stepped up with the save, but this did not slow down the Indiana attack. Sofia Black and Elle Britt saw the best chances for IU later on in the game, but each attempt was met by a save.
Despite not being able to gain a point, Indiana's pressing efforts continued on, not letting up at the goal and not letting the Billikens score more than they already had. Gerstenberg’s last save in the 84th minute would wind out the match and St. Louis would get out with a win.
While the results may have not turned out how Indiana wanted, van Bennekom gave props to the St. Louis team.
“I want to congratulate St. Louis,” van Bennekom said. “(They) had an amazing season. Top-notch program.”
He then thanked seniors Zoe Tiger, Sofia Black, Anna Bennett and Paige Webber who are leaving the program.
“They have been amazing for this program,” van Bennekom said.
Van Bennekom continued to explain his gratitude for them and what they have done for this team and program. They stuck with it through the high and lows, and ultimately were part of creating the new standard that will help this team continue to grow. He said he was glad that they got to experience the national stage before they left, even if the results were not ideal, and he will miss them as big parts of the team.
It was a somber scene as teammates helped each other and hugged after the devastating loss. Nobody was left to handle the defeat on their own or mend the wounds of a loss by themselves. It was nothing but community and support though Indiana as they walked off the pitch for the last time together as a team this season.