BLOOMINGTON – Indiana men’s soccer coach Todd Yeagley is eager to see how the Hoosiers respond to what he calls the “third season.”
The conclusion to the first two seasons went as well as Yeagley could expect, with IU finishing 9-1-1 and winning both the Big Ten regular season and tournament championships.
This week IU will travel to North Carolina for its 34th straight NCAA men’s soccer tournament appearance, with hopes of winning the ninth national title in school history and first since 2012. That quest will begin Sunday in Wilmington, when the Hoosiers will face the winner of Thursday’s game between Milwaukee and St. Francis-Brooklyn (5 p.m., TV: STRETCH).
IU will try to take advantage of a 15-day layoff between games. The Hoosiers last played April 17 at Armstrong Stadium, beating Penn State in penalty kicks to win the Big Ten tournament title on their home field.
“The challenge this week is kind of going back and looking at some things that we did well and we didn’t do well the last few games and get into some nitty gritty if you will on some details,” Yeagley said. “But at the same time keep things nice and short. They’re hungry, keep things really edgy come Sunday, and our preparation is going really well. We’re getting guys that maybe were a little bit nicked up a little bit more time to get healthier, which is another positive of the break.”
IU will be entering into a bubble-like atmosphere for the NCAA Tournament, with all games being played at sites within North Carolina. The College Cup will be held May 14-17 in Cary.
“With the bubble and the COVID, everything is different and new,” Yeagley said. “It’s strange to be playing in April, no doubt. Going out to train, the temperature is a different feel, so this will be new to all of us, coaches, players. I think what we have to do is to keep things as consistent and as simple as it needs to be and not over exaggerate or overthink the fact that we’re all in a bubble and we’re not playing at home.”
IU last appeared in the College Cup in 2018, falling 2-0 to Maryland in the NCAA Tournament semifinals. The Hoosiers this season have been led by the scoring of sophomore forward Victor Bezerra (11 goals, three assists) and a defense that has allowed just three goals in 11 games. Bezerra has scored five goals in his last three games.
“He’s having the year we certainly were hoping for,” Yeagley said. “Our guys knew this fall, the training games, the way he was performing, his scoring -- no one on the team is surprised with what he’s done, nor the staff. Now with him doing it and being as confident as it is, it just gives your team a heckuva a lot of juice because you always feel like you’ve got one goal in you.”
Sophomore goalkeeper Roman Celentano also has had a stellar season for the Hoosiers with seven shutouts in 11 games. Yeagley said the 6-foot-3 Celentano has a classic goalkeeper’s build.
“He’s got size. He’s quick. He’s got courage,” Yeagley said. “You throw those skillsets, which are God-given, with his incredible work rate, I don’t think anyone I would say is better or certainly would match Roman when it comes to his desire to get better. He’s a guy we have to pull out of the weight room a bit.”
IU has overcome some adversity as well, losing team captain and senior defenseman Spencer Glass with a broken leg in a game at Michigan on March 27. Yeagley said Glass will travel with the team to North Carolina and continue his rehab but likely won’t be available for the tournament.
“He’s been a phenomenal captain, leader,” Yeagley said. “Very selfless because it’s easy to do a woe me, why me, senior year. I’ve already got -- we’ve already dealt with COVID. Seniors can be disenchanted already let alone have a broken leg and watch it from the sidelines. So I think Spencer knows that his positivity and his help with -- he’s pulling guys aside and giving them little pointers. I think he’s keeping the seniors locked in.”