The quest for Indiana University's 9th title begins in less than two weeks, when the Hoosiers open up their title defense in an opener in Fort Wayne against Marquette on August 22nd. Here's a quick walkthrough of the Hoosier personnel most likely to contribute:
#8 Nikita Kotlov: aka Mr. November. When he turned it on, gave the Hoosiers a 30-rock-esque "third heat" in the postseason. He absolutely destroyed Xavier, and provided the game-winning goal in the championship game.
#10 AJ Corrado: The offensive hub and principal dealer of assists (12 last year) ensures the IU offense shouldn't fall off too much even with the loss of Zavaleta.
#7 Harrison Petts: Petts doesn't score many goals, or even notch many assists, but he's been a huge part of the Hoosier resurgence by providing stability on both sides of the ball. He had an excellent gamewinner at Penn State in the second OT, but that was his only goal.
#4 Femi Hollinger-Janzen: Femi was my freshman to watch last season, and boy, did he come through. He easily could've had at least four goals in the College Cup with just a little more composure. His game-winner against Creighton was a beauty though, and he had notched a second if not for a controversial decision that the halftime whistle had already blown.
#17 Jacob Bushue: Bushue is an unparalleled disruptor in the defensive midfield. His return, even not being at 100%, was a huge boost to the Hoosiers' postseason success. Spent a number of games starting on the Hoosiers' backline in the Spring season.
#16 Dylan Lax: The one thing that Bushue's injury did late in the season was allow Lax to move up from part-time contributor to full-time menace in the defensive midfield. Lax reminds me a bit of Jim Crockford (going way back), and between he and Bushue, Hoosier opponents will find their opportunities on goal few and far between.
#5 Matt McKain: Solid, steady contributor at wingback, and provider of many good crosses into the box. Perhaps none were more important than ball he sent into the box in OT against Notre Dame that Kotlov flicked onto Zavaleta for the game-winning score.
#23 Kerel Bradford: The former wing midfielder found his niche as a centerback last season, and should reprise the role.
#19 Patrick Doody: Doody had a very similar season to McKain, but I've had him earmarked as the next Hoosier sweeper for a while. Does he stay at outside back or move more into the middle with loss of Caleb Konstanski?
Off the bench:
#21 Kyle Sparks: Quick and dangerous with shots on goal, his redshirt freshmen season went better than really anyone could have expected.
#9 Andrew Oliver: Did blue-chipper Oliver simply need a year to adjust, or was his role filled by superstar Eriq Zavaleta, or is he just not ready to contribute at the level Indiana needs him to? These questions should be answered this season, as Oliver should get a chance to be IU's target man up front, or find other ways to contribute. The Hoosiers can certainly use a big talented forward with the absence of Zavaleta.
#18 Richard Ballard: Earned a starting spot in the midfield late in the season, and played off the bench throughout the Hoosiers' NCAA march to the title. Should continue to provide quality depth.
#15 Jamie Vollmer: former starter and throw-in specialist, Vollmer may well slide back into a full-time starting spot in the midfield or defense after a redshirt season.
#1 Michael Soderlund: Currently the favorite for assuming Luis Soffner's starting role between the pipes. He had a pretty decent spring, and posted an eye-popping 11 saves in the 1-0 loss against the Mexico U-21 squad, but that's coming after a pretty terrible spring in 2012. Soderlund certainly came in the physical gifts and instincts that you would expect from an Indiana goalkeeper. So, here's hoping he's figured out how to put it all together.
#6 Dylan Mares: The Louisville transfer should be an instant starter. Whether the Cardinals were better than the Hoosiers last season was a bit of an open question going into the NCAA tourney. And Mares came off of a redshirt season to lead the team in scoring overall (20) and goals scored (7). He can't replace all the things that Zavaleta provided, but he'll certainly contribute.
#11 Tanner Thompson: Son of former Hoosier captain Gregg Thompson, Tanner graduated early and started most of the Hoosiers' spring games in the midfield. He notched a goal against Notre Dame.
#14 Tommy Thompson: Younger brother of classmate Tanner. Has already been named to the Top Drawer Soccer Preseason Best XI freshmen team. Listed as a forward.
#22 Michael Galullo: Galullo was named 2012 Indiana High School Player of the Year and National Soccer Coaches Association All-American. Midfielder who also graduated early to join the Hoosiers' spring season. We'll see if he got a jump on his classmates by doing so.
#20 Sean Cowdrey: It would be a little ridiculous to call the high-school All-American from DeMatha Catholic (which owns a 64-game winning streak) a sleeper, but with all the firepower here, I keep forgetting how good this kid might be. He's big, fast, and scores lots of goals.
#3 Derek Creviston: Given his grooming as an elite prep player (and anchoring the defense for a two-time state champion), I expected Creviston to get a bit of time last season, but he redshirted. He should get some opportunities this season.
#2 Billy McConnell: Perhaps an impact guy, as he was named to the Top Drawer Soccer Preseason Best XI freshman team but defenders are hard to project. Might need a year to adjust to the physicality of the college game before contributing.
#32 Colin Webb: If Soderlund can't stay consistent as keeper, Yeagley may turn to the freshman Webb. I found this bit intriguing in the signing announcement on the IU website, which noted that "Webb has experience training at Tottenham Hotspurs Academy in London and at Sporting Lisbon Academy in Lisbon, Portugal and Zico FC in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil." Quite the globetrotter!
So, these will be the young men representing the Hoosiers as they try to add yet another star. Just writing this got me pumped about the potential here. Go Hoosiers!