The 2021 Indiana State soccer team has accomplished more this season than any previous Sycamore squad has ever done, culminating in Saturday's 2-0 victory over Northern Iowa to secure its fifth win of the conference season and officially clinch the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
Over the program's 20-year history, there have been more downs than ups, having finished in the bottom third of the league in all but six seasons. The Sycamores, behind their 5-2 MVC record this spring, receive a first-round bye in the MVC Tournament and will host a semi-final match at ISU Memorial Stadium in the coming weeks.
ISU, behind fifth-year head coach Julie Hanley, has orchestrated one of the top turnarounds in the country after winning just six combined league matches in the previous six seasons. Historically, Indiana State has only had four seasons with three-or-more Valley wins, and only two with four victories. The 2021 spring campaign has seen the Sycamores set a new program record for Valley wins (five) while registering the most shutouts against MVC opponents in program history (five), and the future looks just as bright.
The 2021 spring roster, composed of 17 freshmen and sophomores and just six juniors and seniors, has thrived amidst a time of chaos. The team's five league victories have set the ISU record for most wins in conference play, all while maintaining the high academic standard set under Hanley's tenure with a team GPA well above a 3.5 cumulative mark, including four 4.0s.
ISU's calling card throughout the campaign has been its defense, with freshman keeper Maddie Alexander five shutouts this season. The five clean sheets in Valley play are a new program record, but the rookie goalie has had help along the way. Center backs Koe Pettigrew (freshman) and Chloe Kooker (sophomore), as well as left back Danielle Varner (senior), right-back Serra Hanrahan (sophomore), and defensive midfielder Isabella Hunter (freshman) have stymied opposing offenses all season.
The offense has produced at a high level as well, scoring 1.0 goals per game, good for third in the conference. Indiana State's best offensive feature is that a strike can come from anywhere. CeCe Wahlberg (sophomore), Audrey Stephens (freshman), and Kattie Yankey (freshman) have each scored two goals on the campaign, while Anna Holcombe (sophomore) and Carlie Jensen (freshman) have one. Perhaps even more impressive about this young Sycamores squad: 21-of-22 (95%) total points on the season have been registered by underclassmen.
Even though much of the success has come from its treasure trove of talented underclassmen, the upperclassmen have provided essential leadership and on-field experience to lift the program to new heights. Senior Dannielle Varner has played all but 27 minutes this season, while junior Sidney Ewing leads the Sycamores with two assists. Senior Camryn DeGrafft and juniors Jensen Margheim and Alise Emser have helped see Hanley's vision for this program to its new mark, providing strong play on the field in
Indiana State has seen the success on the field equate to individual accolades from the league office as well, having earned Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week honors four times during the spring. Defender Chloe Kooker was tabbed Defensive Player of the Week (March 9) and keeper Maddie Alexander followed it up with a Freshman of the Week (March 16) nod a week later. Midfielder CeCe Wahlberg was the first Sycamore to earn Offensive Player of the Week (March 23) this season, and most recently Audrey Stephens was named Freshman of the Week (March 30).
Before the team hosts its Missouri Valley Conference semi-final match, the Sycamores will close out the regular season with a match at in-state rival Evansville Wednesday April 7 at 7 p.m. ET.