There are no locker rooms — no enclosed, team-specific areas for the men’s soccer clubs participating in the NCAA Tournament at WakeMed Field in Cary, N.C. So when lightning threatened the area and rain began to fall late in the first half of Monday’s quarterfinals matchup, the IU and Seton Hall teams made a run for it.
And sprinted straight to their respective busses.
“There was no place to go,” IU coach Todd Yeagley said.
The Hoosiers made do with their cramped quarters for the bulk of the approximate hour during which the teams were kept from the pitch, another less-than-ideal wrinkle in a spring season full of them. Yeagley, now in his 11th year as Indiana’s coach, has spent countless, untold hours on busses, navigating the soft curves of Midwestern highways. But this was unique.
“I’ve been on busses waiting for things,” Yeagley said. “Maybe a halftime. But not for a delay to go to a final four.”
It was a muggy, sticky night, one where it was tough to catch a full breath before the rain washed away the humidity. So Yeagley allowed his players some time to relax and recuperate after they boarded the charter during the delay in action.
Then, after a few minutes passed, he used the time together to serve up a reminder. Strange as the situation was, Yeagley called attention to all of the other oddities the Hoosiers have navigated in recent months. Monday night’s start-and-stop affair was just the latest in a steady stream of them.
“Look at our whole year,” Yeagley said. “It’s like, yeah, we’ve never had this. But we’ve never had all the other stuff we’ve dealt with. I mean, it’s been one challenge after another. We had adversity in the fall with different things. We had adversity this year in different conditions where we were playing, but I think we just went to that (while talking on the bus). We went to the strength of them solving what we’ve been dealing with and that was, I think, important. You can easily fall into comfort or forget what we’re playing for. It’s just a constant reminder that this is a special game. ... To get to a final four is really, really special, and then to win it is the ultimate. They’re just so close. We just kept reminding them.”
The message seemed to resonate. Moments after the teams returned to the pitch to resume the contest in the 42nd minute, Ryan Wittenbrink scored the go-ahead goal in the evenutal 2-0 victory, beating Seton Hall’s keeper with a right-footed finish to the far post just before halftime. Then, 13 minutes into the second half, Maouloune Goumballe found Thomas Warr on a well-executed cross to make it a 2-0 IU advantage.
From there, the Hoosiers withstood the Pirates’ attack and clinched the program’s 21st trip to the College Cup.
Such appearances on college soccer’s biggest stage are almost expected at this point. When IU faces Pittsburgh on Friday at 8:30 p.m. Eastern, it will mark the Hoosiers’ third national semifinal game in the past four seasons. And yet, after the match — and before the team boarded its bus for the third time on Monday — Yeagley made a few requests of his players.
Stop. Take a breath and savor the win. Getting this far isn’t a birthright, even for a program as decorated as IU, with its eight national titles.
And in a season as unpredictable as this one, Yeagley wanted his players to recognize exactly what they’ve done — and overcome — along the way.
“We have to take a moment and enjoy and celebrate what many feel as though is something that IU soccer just does,” Yeagley said. “It’s hard to get to these games. It’s hard. ... I want them to understand how important it is that they won this College Cup (clincher). They’re the 21st. It’s theirs.”