Hoosiers, young and old, dancing to the College Cup #iums

Indiana University men’s soccer coach Todd Yeagley has never seen so much dancing.

He hopes to see some more when the second-seed Hoosiers take on third-seeded North Carolina in the national semifinals on Friday night at 8:45 in Talen Energy Stadium on the outskirts of Philadelphia (on ESPNU).

The dancing is largely courtesy of freshman forward and leading scorer Mason Toye, but it speaks to the combination of youth and experience that has turned into the perfect blend to get IU back to the College Cup for an NCAA-record 19th time and the first time since 2012.

“I’ve never seen more dancing after scoring (than from Mason),” Yeagley said with a smile. “That’s not been a tradition here. I’d say he’s right on the edge of intervention, but he’s having fun. I want them to have a great time.”

The Hoosiers (17-0-6) have been doing that from the get-go this season. It started with six returning starters — three on the back line and three in midfield, plus a wealth of experience that had only played in a reserve role previously.

Add in a 10-man freshman recruiting class ranked fourth nationally by multiple outlets, and there were plenty of high hopes for what this Indiana team might become.

Those hopes were realized with last Friday’s penalty kick shootout win over Michigan State in the NCAA quarterfinals, leaving the Hoosiers playing on the last weekend of the season.

“Well, I’ve felt every single team I’ve been on here has been a final four (caliber) team, but this group actually made it,” senior captain Grant Lillard said. “And just for the balance we have, the goalscoring capabilities, our ability to defend effectively as a team, ability to press well, and this year we have better options to keep possession a little more, to stretch the field a little bit.
“We’ve been able to demonstrate strong defensive performances for a few years now, and just with the attacking options we have going forward, we just find a way to win this year, just because we have so many opportunities to score in games, so many options we can throw on the field to throw something different at the other team. At some point, they’re not going to be able to handle it. So it’s been a fun year.”

Fun, indeed. Lillard, a MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist, has anchored a defense that has pitched 17 shutouts. More often than not that’s been plenty to get the job done, and even when Lillard and company give up a goal, that’s still often enough to get the job done thanks to an improved offense that has scored 48 goals in 23 games. That’s a significant jump from the 30 goals in 21 games the Hoosiers tallied each of the past two seasons. As a matter of fact, it’s the most goals scored in a season by Indiana since posting 54 goals in 2005.

Give the freshmen a large portion of the credit.

“Something we used to talk about over the summer a lot was that we knew coming into this year we had four national team guys coming in (Mason Toye, Justin Rennicks, Griffin Dorsey and Trey Muse),” redshirt junior midfielder Frankie Moore said. “Obviously, we were excited for that, because a lot of them were in the attacking half, so we knew that the mixture of our defense and our experience along with our midfield being almost the exact same while throwing in a few more attacking pieces, meant we were going to be a pretty good team.”

Toye leads the team in goals and points with 10 goals and two assists from his forward spot, while Dorsey has three goals and six assists as an attacking midfielder. A preseason injury slowed Rennicks, who has played steadily increasing minutes off the bench with one assist in seven games, and his best moment of the season might yet be ahead.

“Justin, hopefully he’s got more in him this weekend, but he’s just starting to scratch the surface,” IU coach Todd Yeagley said on Tuesday.

Muse, on the other hand, has been exactly what the Hoosiers needed at goalkeeper behind that experienced back line, but he’s no ordinary freshman either having come out of the Seattle Sounders Academy program and also playing with the U18 national team.

“He’s beyond his years with those areas (of composure and communication) as a freshman,” Yeagley said. “We say with a goalkeeper, ‘The better you are the older you get.’ Usually those maturity moments come with a lot of games, a lot of experience.
“… He’s been in environments where he’s been around some big personalities with Seattle’s first team in training, playing in the reserve games, so he’s not intimidated. That’s a huge part coming to team that has lot of returning players and playing the type of scope that we play. He wasn’t rattled one bit in any moment in that game Friday or games previously.”

All that said, there was no guarantee things would work out so smoothly.

“You never really know what you get until they actually get here with the freshmen, but they’ve all panned out and done a fantastic job,” Lillard said. “They’ve all done everything we’ve asked them to do, and they’ve worked hard and really earned their spot on this team.”

One thing the freshmen have also done is add a layer of levity, which was on display Tuesday when Toye declared himself the team’s best dancer with a nod to Muse and honorable mention to Austin Panchot’s “corny” efforts.

“The freshman class as a whole, that was one of the things we were trying to do is kind of lighten the mood a little bit with some jokes and dancing and whatnot,” Toye said. “You just try to have as much fun as possible. Obviously you want to take it seriously, but at the end of the day it’s just a game, so you want to have as much fun with it and enjoy the moment for sure.”

Yeagley agrees, even if the dancing is more than he’s accustomed to.

“That was the big takeaway in ’12 when we were (at the College Cup). They had a great time,” Yeagley said. “Our guys really enjoyed it and that has to start obviously with our communication from the coaching staff. We try to be as par for the course as you can and not get any more amped. You can’t change things drastically, you have to keep things pretty similar and have some fun, because going into this there’s going to be a lot of anxiety come kickoff, so no need to bring more of that into the weekend.”

If the anxiety is followed by dancing, then the Hoosiers’ blend of old and new just might be playing for a national championship on Sunday.