Considering all that has transpired for Indiana soccer this season, the fact that the Hoosiers even have a chance to play for an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament Sunday is quite remarkable.
Three games ago, Indiana was 4-11-2 and the defending national champions looked primed for a quick end to the season and a long offseason to regroup.
But in the blink of an eye everything has changed and suddenly IU is back knocking on the NCAA Tournament door.
With No. 5 seed IU's advancement to the finals of the Big Ten tournament, it has finally started to show the potential that was expected of this team from the onset of this season.
Back in August, the preseason NCAA coaches' poll had the Hoosiers at the top of nearly everyone's list, putting them at No. 1 to start the season. After not being able to pick up any steam, the Hoosiers quickly fell from their lofty perch, only lasting a few weeks in the rankings before dropping out entirely.
The team had struggled mightily all season to find results it desperately needed to add to its resume, but each time they were undone by their lack of focus at the back.
Many point to the loss of goal production from Eriq Zavaleta, who left the program following his sophomore year to join the MLS ranks. But the team has been able to step up and provide goals from the likes of Nikita Kotlov, A.J. Corrado, Femi Hollinger-Janzen, and Tommy Thompson. And while they have struggled to finish some of them off, the chances this team has been able to create have showcased the talent this team possesses.
But the bigger problem was the lack of focus on the defensive end for a full 90 minutes. This comes partially from the losses of co-captains Luis Soffner and Caleb Konstanski, both of whom were integral pieces to last year's national championship team.
Inevitably, something would go wrong at the back during some of the biggest games, allowing their opponents to walk away with the victory. Before entering the Big Ten tournament, the Hoosiers had not been able to come away with a positive result in overtime, going 0-5-1 in the matches that had been played to an even score line.
Some of those matches were given away before the final buzzer sounds. With a 2-0 lead at Butler entering the final 10 minutes, the team seemed content to sit back and allow the Butler attack to get closer to goal than they had all game, and so the Bulldogs took advantage, netting two goals in the final seven minutes to tie the score and send it to extra time. Earlier in the season, the same situation happened at UAB, where the back line conceded a weak penalty in the final minute to provide the Blazers with a chance to win.
Todd Yeagley has sent out all sorts of combinations in an attempt to find the right one. Mixing and matching his center backs has been the one variable, and goalkeeper Michael Soderlund and left and right backs Patrick Doody and Matt McKain have remained constant. Players have come in and out to try and shore up the line, but each time it seems as Indiana might have something to show for it, they give it away down the stretch.
The two most recent changes have shown a bit more promise. Jacob Bushue, normally a midfielder who is involved in both the attack and defense, has been moved back to the fullback position to provide the physicality that Konstanski took with him.
But the biggest surprise is Yeagley finally taking Soderlund out of goal and putting in the true freshman Colin Webb. Webb was able to get a start earlier this season when Soderlund was injured, but his performance was less than desirable. He was caught out of position several times, and looked lost as to what he was doing.
Then again, aren't we all the first time we do something at a new level?
Webb has been the starter for the last three games, and the team has three straight positive results for the first time all season. What started with a 3-0 shutout of the Wildcats of Northwestern has begun spiraling into a win streak that has provided revenge against two teams that previously had beaten the Hoosiers.
This team will now play for a Big Ten tournament title on Sunday, something that was not quite in the books for this team just a short time ago. They will face Michigan State as the third and final match up of the "revenge tour", and the motivation following that defeat on Senior Night should be more than enough to focus this team.
Credit should be given to Webb for stepping up and becoming a leader this late in the season. But the real credit needs to be given to Todd Yeagley, because if this team now wins the tournament and is provided an automatic berth to the NCAA field, he will have found the missing piece to the puzzle he has worked all season to find.