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The work is certainly cut out for the Hoosiers to improve on last season’s marks of 12-5-5, runner-up in the Big Ten tournament and a 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament – the 28th consecutive appearance and 39th overall. Nine opponents on the 2015 schedule qualified for the 48-team field in 2014, continuing the eight-time national champion’s tradition of facing one of the nation’s toughest. Only three of those nine matches – Notre Dame on Aug. 30, Ohio State on Oct. 10 and Louisville on Oct. 20 – will be played in Bloomington.
The high expectations were confirmed after Indiana won four of five against a high quality stretch of opponents in the spring, defeating Indy Eleven, Notre Dame, Butler and the Mexico U-17 National Team in addition to netting two on professional side Louisville City FC.
The NSCAA’s preseason No. 14 team contains an abundant supply of talented upper and underclassmen led by seven returning regular starters, five of which started all 22 games. That depth hopes to mitigate the departures of defenders Patrick Doody and Kerel Bradford, midfielders Jamie Vollmer and Dylan Lax, and forward Andrew Oliver, a group that scored or assisted on 24 of last season’s 35 goals.
The attack will frequently run through the two members of the 2014 All-Big Ten First Team: senior Femi Hollinger-Janzen and junior Tanner Thompson, who was named to the 30-man MAC Hermann Trophy Watch list on Wednesday after finishing as a semifinalist for college soccer’s top award in 2014. Thompson was selected as an NSCAA All-American after pacing the Hoosiers in points (15) with six goals and three assists, while Hollinger-Janzen contributed five goals and two assists of his own.
Incoming freshman Rees Wedderburn, who last played for English side West Bromwich Albion U-21, is also poised to be a key contributor to an offense that ranked 45th in the country and atop the conference alongside Maryland in goals scored and goals per game (1.59) last season. Expect graduate transfer Ben Maurey from Brown University, senior Kyle Sparks, junior Richard Ballard, sophomores Michael Reidford, Brad Shaw and Michael Gallulo, and freshmen Cory Thomas, Rece Buckmaster and Austin Panchot to see substantial time in the middle and final third.
The defensive side of the pitch is commanded by junior goalkeeper Colin Webb and reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Grant Lillard, the fifth Indiana player to win the award in the past eight seasons. Lillard is currently training with a select group of top college players at the U.S. U-23 College Identification Training Camp that concludes on Saturday. He also trained with Finnish professional side HJK Helsinki for a week in July, so don’t count on the rising sophomore playing in Bloomington beyond 2015.
Senior Matt Foldesy and juniors Billy McConnell, Derek Creviston and Phil Fives, who sat out 2014, are also expected to be staples in the Hoosier defense that looks to improve on last season’s goals against average of 0.96, which ranked 60th in the country and sixth in the Big Ten. Look for sophomores Jack Griffith and Trevor Swartz as well as freshmen Tim Mehl, Andrew Gutman and Jeremiah Gutjahr to challenge for starts in the holding midfield and backline positions.
Projected starting 11:
Indiana will play three exhibitions – two in Bloomington with Valparaiso and Western Michigan on Aug. 17 and 20, respectively, and the third against Marquette in the ShinDigz National Soccer Festival in Fort Wayne on Aug. 22 – before kicking off the regular season in the Adidas/IU Credit Union Classic in Bloomington with St. John’s and Notre Dame beginning on Aug. 28.