The poster child for Big Ten mediocrity for most of their history, Indiana’s fallen much short of even mid-table obscurity as of late. Memories of 2007′s Cinderella run to the Sweet Sixteen have long since receded in Bloomington, replaced by life near the bottom of the league. After a solid fourth in the league in that 2007 season that saw the Hoosiers break a nine year NCAA Tournament drought (and finish in the RPI Top 25), Indiana followed with a 8-10-1, eighth place clunker the year after that saw them slide out of the RPI Top 100. 2009 was more of a mixed bag as Indiana started out like a house of fire, winning their first six, including victories over Central Michigan and Florida that had the team thinking NCAA Tournament again.
Sadly, that form didn’t carry over to league play, and the Hoosiers slipped and slid down the RPI but still could have likely made it to the Big Dance with a win in their final four but lost all four of those matches to complete a horrifying collapse. 2010 was about redemption for the Hoosiers and their head coach Mick Lyon, but the Hoosiers would instead fall to their worst season in program history, finishing 6-12-1 and dropping out of the RPI Top 100 again.
Lyon began the 2011 season on a seat that was getting ever warmer, and things got no better after the club’s season opener, a 2-2 draw against Missouri Valley Conference minnows Evansville. While the club would rebound to trounce Butler two days later, the seeds of doubt had already been planted and came to roost the following weekend in a loss to an underwhelming South Florida team. While Indiana was polishing off overmatched teams in non-conference play, they were also not beating too many quality teams, with their best non-conference win likely a 4-1 pasting of Western Michigan. 1-0 losses to Michigan and Iowa to open up the league season hurt but underlined the fight still left in Lyon’s club.
That would be shown and then some over the next few weeks as Indiana impressively won two of three in the league. But the bottom fell out just as quick as some began to give Indiana a second look as a creditable Big Ten side, as the Hoosiers lost their final six league matches to finish an unflattering eleventh in the league. It wasn’t just that Indiana was losing either but how they were getting beat. The defense was sieve-like, giving up twenty-one goals in those final six matches, including eight to arch-rivals Purdue in a humiliating 8-2 defeat to the Boilermakers. It was one of the worst defeats in program history and one that had some wondering at the end of the season if Lyon’s reign at the head of the program had run its course.
Lyon survived to coach another year and will, at least, not have to worry about postseason qualification this year as Indiana gets an automatic bid to the Big Ten Tournament as hosts. Whether they’ll deserve to be there on merit is certainly a doubt though, as the Hoosiers have much ground to gain to finish in the top eight in the league this season. The offense showed some signs of life out of the league but began to spin their wheels once Big Ten play started, and Indiana finished as one of just two teams to not average a goal a game in conference play. The defense was even worse, giving up twenty-eight goals, or over two and a half goals a game. While the Purdue result certainly had an effect on those numbers, Indiana still gave up two goals a game in Big Ten games.
In all honesty, the offense looks more likely to recover thanks to the presence of Colombian senior Orianica Velasquez. A hair trigger striker who showed her stuff last Summer for her nation at the Women’s World Cup, Velasquez has the quality to seriously impact a game and will want to go out a winner for the Hoosiers. Lyon’s drafted in a fairly big recruiting class to try and turn the program’s fortunes, but Indiana doesn’t look like a quick fix at the moment.
Though Indiana returns most of their backline intact, they’ve got a big hole to fill in between the posts with the graduation of Lindsay Campbell. Campbell had seemed to have been marginalized going into 2010, as after two seasons of twelve starts, the Texan had been rooted to bench for much of her junior season, playing in just five matches with two starts. She’d win the starting job back last year though, starting every match to make an emphatic statement, though she was probably busier than she would have liked with the backline in front of her struggling.
Junior Shannon Flower got a harsh reality check last season after coming in as a rookie and starting eleven games in 2010. After displacing Campbell that season though, the tables were turned last year, with Flower netting mop-up duty in just five games. She’ll likely be first choice at the beginning of this season though, by virtue of her starting experience if nothing else. Redshirt freshman Sarah Stone came into the team with a decent amount of plaudits last season but redshirted with her path to the top blocked. She’ll likely battle true freshman Katie Greulich for the backup role with an eye towards the future. Flower has potential if she’s on form, but replacing a veteran starter like Campbell isn’t a cinch by any means.
For better or for worse, Indiana returns most of last year’s starting group intact. On one hand, a little more experience and continuity could see this group improve on last year’s brutal performance. On the other though, experience and continuity only counts for so much, and this unit was well off the pace last year. Of the losses, Kerri Krawczak’s departure hurts most, as the center-back was limited to just eight starts while battling injuries. Krawczak had been a three-year starter before and a previous Big Ten All-Freshman Team selection, so her health woes last year certainly hurt the club. Fellow senior Kirsta Kellin began as a freshman starter in 2008 but slowly saw her number of starts slip while functioning as a utility player in defense and in midfield. She only started four matches last season but still was one of the club’s top reserves in 2011.
Heading up this group in 2012 should be seniors Ciersten Burks and Molly Buynak. Beginning her career as an attacker who flitted in and out of the starting lineup, Burks was squarely thrust into the backline last year and ended up holding down a starting position for much of the year. Burks should be more comfortable another year removed from the transition and could improve as a senior. It was a long wait for Buynak to get on the pitch, with the Strongsville native missing two full seasons at Indiana before bursting into the starting lineup for fourteen games last year. With some of the rust likely shaken off, Buynak should also take a step forward this year.
Junior Lara Ross is another likely starter after twenty-five starts through two seasons. Ross didn’t show the goalscoring form of her rookie year when she netted twice but still started fifteen games and brings veteran presence to this group. Classmate Becca Zambon started eighteen matches last season and looks like one of the sturdiest and most consistent members of the defense and should reprise her starting role again this year. Sophomore Bekah White started nine Big Ten matches after redshirting in 2010 and is another contender for starting minutes in a sizable group for Lyon to choose from.
Adding some depth will be sophomore Megan Holland, who saw action in six games off the bench last year. The Hoosiers also add some freshmen to the mix, most notably Katy Woolley, a mainstay on the powerhouse Michigan Hawks club team. There aren’t any stars in this unit, but it’s hard envisioning them being worse than last season with all the experience returning.
Most of the usual suspects return intact for the 2012 season for the Hoosiers, but the club must still compensate for the loss of Canadian Devon Beach. Beach was one of the most constant presences in the midfield the past four years, with seventy-five career starts, including starting every game from 2009 on. Beach had four goals and five assists as a sophomore but struggled to reach those same heights after, finishing with just a pair of goals last year.
Stepping up into a leadership role will be junior Lisa Nouanesengsy, who had a big breakthrough last year. A season after not logging a single point in seventeen starts, the Huber Heights product scored a hat trick against Butler and didn’t let up from there, finishing with six goals on the year. She could be an important outlet for goals once again, which is big for a team that struggled to score in the league last year. Also capable of hitting the back of the net is sophomore Abby Smith, who was impressive as a rookie, starting every match in the center of midfield and finishing with two goals and two assists on the year. Smith could be a future cornerstone of this group, and her progression bears watching for Hoosier supporters.
Who replaces Beach is a big question though. Sophomore Monica Melink is a prime contender after being the club’s top midfield reserve last season while also starting three games. Melink also chipped in with a couple of assists as a redshirt freshman in 2011 for the Hoosiers. Classmate Jordan Woolums also had two assists as a rookie while being used exclusively off the bench, while fellow sophomore Rebecca Dreher scored a pair of goals off the bench as well. Rounding out the reserve candidates in Bloomington is yet another sophomore, Tori Keller, who made twelve appearances off the bench last season.
Some intriguing newcomers also make their way into the mix this year. Canadian Jessie Bujouves may have one of the most interesting stories of any recruit in the nation this season. After featuring as a Canadian youth international and playing club ball in both Canada and the United States, Bujouves has been plying her trade in Spain with Atletico Madrid. A player with great potential, Bujouves could go a long way in invigorating the Indiana attack throughout her career if everything falls into place. Also worth watching is Kayleigh Steigerwalt, impressive for Carmel United in ECNL action over the past few seasons. Despite losing Beach, this group is rife with young talent. If Lyon can harness some of that talent, this midfield might quietly impress in the Big Ten this year.
A fearless striker who isn’t afraid to pull the trigger from anywhere in the opposing half, Velasquez has in many ways been the face of the club these past three seasons. The Colombian has looked one of the rising stars of her nation both internationally and in the college ranks and will be looking to lead the way in Bloomington this year. Velasquez started out 2011 on fire, with four in the club’s first five and five in their first eight but would be held in check more often down the stretch, scoring just twice in the league. For the Hoosiers to succeed this year, they’ll almost assuredly need more form their scoring talisman.
Who partners Velasquez up top is a pressing concern though after the graduation of Carly Samp. Samp looked set for a big season in 2011 after breaking out for eight goals in 2010 and certainly looked to be on her way after four goals in the club’s first seven last year, including one in three straight games in September. But she wouldn’t score after September 9th and slumped so badly that she didn’t put a shot on goal in the club’s final five matches. Also departing is Kaylin Clow, who was seldom used for two seasons before turning into one of the team’s top reserves as a junior and senior and even had a run out in the first team for three matches last year.
Returning depth isn’t exactly promising. Junior Rebecca Candler and sophomore Kate McCusker combined for ten starts last year, which unfortunately matched their combined shot count, and the duo managed just a single goal on the season. If Lyon can’t find a running mate for Velasquez up top, life could be very hard for the Colombian, who’d undoubtedly face scores of defenders trying to shut her down in her senior season.
OK, all doesn’t appear to be hopeless in Bloomington. Velasquez is a fine talent, albeit one with a propensity at times of trying to do too much by herself, though given the club’s recent struggles, that’s somewhat understandable. The midfield supporting her has a lot of potential and could in time grow to be one of the league’s more impressive units, though this club still lacks something of a strength in depth in attack, especially up front. The Hoosiers are going nowhere if they can’t sort out their defense though, and Lyon will have to be hoping that he can squeeze some better results out of that group that returns mostly intact.
Not having to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament should ease some of the pressure on this squad, and that could be an underrated factor into how the season could play out. They aren’t going to be title contenders by any stretch of the imagination and probably aren’t going to seriously challenge for an NCAA Tournament berth, but .500 may not be out of the question, with the potential to perhaps move up a spot or two in the league. Whether that’s enough to keep Lyon in the good graces of the Indiana brass considering the patience they’ve shown is another matter entirely.