Indiana's return to soccer's College Cup for the first time since 2004 brings Todd Yeagley both professional and personal satisfaction.
In Yeagley's first two seasons as the Hoosiers' head coach, his team made it to the NCAA tournament's round of 16 before losing to the eventual national champion (Akron in 2010, North Carolina in 2011). Indiana earned a measure of revenge in knocking off the Tar Heels to advance to Friday's semifinal meeting with Creighton.
“This program has been to a lot of College Cups, and expectations here are always high,” Yeagley said. “I thought we had made good strides the last few years, and I felt we had a group this year that was capable of doing some special things.”
The Hoosiers stand two wins away from an eighth national championship. Six of the titles were won by teams coached by Jerry Yeagley, Todd's father. Todd Yeagley played for his father from 1991 to 1994, winning national player of the year honors as a senior.
“I grew up around the program,” Yeagley said. “I feel like I've been there since the beginning, and I'm obviously very happy that I can add to the great tradition of this program. Most of all, I'm happy to see the smiles on the faces of so many Indiana fans.”
Yeagley's team will bring a 14-5-3 record into Friday's 6:30 p.m. match against Creighton at Hoover, Ala. The winner will advance to Sunday's championship game against the winner of the Maryland-Georgetown semifinal.
Indiana, the tournament's No. 16 seed, opened its road to Hoover with a second-round home victory over Xavier. The Hoosiers eliminated top-seeded Notre Dame 2-1 in double overtime at South Bend, Ind., to reach the quarterfinals against North Carolina.
In addition to ending Indiana's 2011 season, the Tar Heels had bumped the Hoosiers out of the 2009 tournament. After twice losing 1-0 to North Carolina, Indiana's seniors relished the 1-0 win they scored on the Tar Heels' field in Friday's quarterfinal match.
“It felt great to finally get over that hump,” Indiana goalkeeper Luis Soffner said after the match. “We left here last year a little devastated because we felt we had played really well and it just came down to a couple of little plays.
“We knew this wasn't an easy place to play, but we knew we had the team this year that was capable of taking them out. We had a good, solid team performance all the way around.”
A four-year starter, Soffner has played every minute in goal this season while posting a 0.78 goals-against average and 10 shutouts. The Hoosiers have limited their opponents to 18 goals, which is the scoring output of their star sophomore, Eriq Zavaleta.
He got goal No. 18 against North Carolina to boost his team-leading scoring total to 39 points. Junior Nikita Kotlov ranks second on the team with 20 points (eight goals, four assists), while junior A.J. Corrado has 14 points (one goal, 12 assists).
“I consider us a balanced team,” Yeagley said. “We move the ball around effectively and we're capable of getting numbers forward. Our 18-goal scorer is a confident player, and he doesn't need many chances.
“We also have good senior leadership up the spine of the team, which is so important this time of the year. And, as a group, this is a really tight team that has put its mark on Indiana soccer.”
Three of Indiana's five losses and one of its ties came in the five matches prior to the start of the NCAA tournament. Michigan State knocked the Hoosiers out of the Big Ten tournament with a 2-1 quarterfinal win.
Yeagley looks back on that match as being one of the pivotal moments in his team's season.
“Our early exit against Michigan State brought this team a lot closer together,” Yeagley said. “Sometimes adversity can do that to you and actually make you stronger. I see that match as playing a key role in how we've performed down the stretch.”
Indiana and Creighton have four common opponents this season. The Hoosiers and Bluejays each have posted wins over Evansville and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. The Hoosiers lost to Akron, which Creighton tied early in the season and then defeated in the tournament's third round.
Indiana posted a 2-1 win over Saint Louis, which handed Creighton a 3-1 home loss in mid-September.
Yeagley sees similarities between his team and the Bluejays.
“They have good balance and they're a very tough team to break down,” he said. “They have a lot of new pieces, but they do have some mature players that have experience playing at this time of the year. That's always important.
“We'll be aware of what Creighton likes to do when we take the field, but our focus is always going to be on our team first and foremost. And it's all going to come down to what happens between the white lines, who makes the plays, who has the greater will that night and who gets the key break at the key time.”
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