With this season over and done, the only thing to do now is look to the future.
The Indiana Hoosiers had an underwhelming season this past year in trying to defend their national title. They began with the preseason ranked No. 1 and seemed set to make a dominant push toward their ninth title, but things never fully came together for the team as they tried to make up for the losses they sustained due to graduation or the lull of the MLS Superdraft. This left them with their first losing season in program history, unable to get past the first round of the NCAA tournament, a berth which was a gift they had granted themselves by pulling out an unlikely Big Ten tournament championship.
The next season will be no different. A big reason as to why this team was so highly touted in the early going was because of its nucleus of senior midfielders. The faces of Nikita Kotlov, A.J. Corrado, Harrison Petts, and Jacob Bushue will no longer be seen pushing forward the attack for the Cream and Crimson, along with right defensive back Matt McKain.
What does this mean? It means that once again, head coach Todd Yeagley will be tasked with replacing the seemingly unreplaceable. The seniors combined for 13 of the team's 36 goals and 16 of the team's 30 assists. That is nearly the same goal production this team lost over the last off-season when Eriq Zavaleta took his 18-goal performance with him to the professional ranks, but what will hurt even more is the assists lost heading into next season.
Next year's team will look incredibly different, and not only in personnel. The team will have to go under a refocusing period, learning what its identity is and how it plans to approach games. Part of that will come from the mind of Yeagley and what he chooses to impress upon his team, while the other part will come from the talent he has to work with.
Some of that talent has already shown its face. Tommy Thompson will be back to build upon his strong freshman year that was hindered by a torn meniscus halfway through the season. Colin Webb stepped into the goalkeeper position and proved why he had been heavily recruited by keeping the opposition out of the net during the Big Ten tournament run. Sophomores Andrew Oliver and Femi Hollinger-Janzen will be stepping into even more of the limelight as they will be called upon to play bigger minutes and pick up the goal-scoring load left by those leaving.
There is also the fresh talent that Yeagley will look to bring into the program via recruits and transfers. Dylan Mares was a big steal from Louisville last year, but couldn't seem to find his groove with this year's team. He will surely be looking to bounce back next year, but who will he be joined by? Could Yeagley stick with players who have sat on the bench and put them into starting roles, like the Big Ten tournament Offensive MVP Jamie Vollmer? Or will he be looking for fresh faces to add into the mix?
At first glance, the best thing to do would be to invest in the players who know the system and see what comes of it. Any freshman that does come to the team most likely won't be able to join until the summer, which puts them at the natural disadvantage of not being around the program as long. But depending on the talent and how quickly they learn, this team is no stranger to having young players shoulder big expectations.
In the coming weeks, I will be taking a closer look at each part of the team and giving my evaluations for the coming year as Indiana continues its "Quest for Nine".
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