Some organizations in college sports may feel overwhelmed at the thought of being ranked number one in the preseason polls, especially coming off a year when they won the NCAA National Championship.
However, Indiana Hoosiers head coach Todd Yeagley and his men’s soccer team revel in the pressure that comes with being the top program in the nation. In fact, it is where they expect to be every year.
After a 2012 season that saw them win the NCAA College Cup for the eighth time in their history and take a regular season record of 16-5-3, the Hoosiers are confident of further success, especially as Yeagley believes the team still has some way to go.
“We’re number one ranked, and getting to a College Cup is something this organization has always had its eyes set on,” Yeagley said. “We got the crown jewel last year, but it wasn’t as though we did everything as well. There’s some things this team hasn’t done that they want to accomplish and they know exactly what was the key last year. There’s a lot of good teams out there and we’ve been able to find that magic formula, but this team is still very motivated because when you get a taste of it you want more. They have a taste of it and that’s powerful.
“Indiana is a team that everyone wants to beat, regardless of our preseason rank. Expectations are always high regardless of whether they’re fully realistic or not, some years more than others. I think our players have felt this already and we’re really excited for the season. What’s behind us is behind us. That was last year, everything we accomplished, and we have a new set of goals and initiatives for this team.”
The competition for places on Yeagley’s Hoosiers team is fierce, with seven new recruits coming into the team while eight starters have been retained from last year. However, the Head Coach welcomes the competition and believes those returning players have a big role to play in teaching their new teammates about playing for a powerhouse like Indiana.
“Entering our fourth year, you can feel the togetherness, they understand what’s expected,” Yeagley said. “The culture is really strong right now. The group before them really got to where they needed to be to have that Championship success last year, and these upperclassmen are doing a really nice job of doing that from the beginning. A real strength of this team is the unity. I feel that developing and continuing from what we had last year.”
Before the NCAA season gets underway, Indiana faces exhibition games against Marquette on August 22 and North Carolina on August 24, and Yeagley sees those games as very important as his team prepares itself.
“We’re really going to be looking at some individual spots that are new to our team, especiallyat goalkeeper, center back and striker,” added Yeagley. “We’re going to get some players in those spots to see how they mesh with our returners. Specifically, we’re looking at our performance. We always want to take the field and win each game, but we’ll have some specific rotations and things that we want to focus on regardless of the score of the game. We’ve only got a few of these to do that with, so we’ll put a few different guys in, and see if a few of these guys can step into a tough environment against really good teams.”
In the regular season itself, Indiana faces a tough schedule that includes 12 teams that competed in the NCAA Tournament last year, and Yeagley believes the fierce competition they are likely to face from the outset will be highly beneficial for his side.
“I do feel that, like last year and some of our other Championship runs, you’ve got to see where you are and the earlier the better,” he said. “You need to be able to make some appropriate changes if needed or figure out where the weaknesses are quicker. If you take a loss, it doesn’t hurt you as much as giving you a false sense of where you are does. Our players love to play the big games, they enjoy the challenge as it makes every game really important. We have to be strong for every game and I think our players really like the challenge of a tough schedule.”
Ranked as the top men’s soccer program in the country, the Indiana Hoosiers are preparing themselves for what they hope will be another dominant season. With the determination of their head coach coupled with a talented and hard-working group of players, a successful defense of their College Cup title looks likely.
Chris Teale is a contributing writer for College Soccer News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @chris_teale.