One of the main reasons Austin Panchot chose Indiana was the opportunity to win an NCAA soccer championship.
Panchot, a Lafayette High and St. Louis Scott Gallagher Academy product, and his Hoosier teammates will get that chance this weekend in the College Cup in Santa Barbara, Calif. Second-ranked Indiana (20-2-1) takes on No. 11 Maryland (11-6-4) in semifinal action Friday at 9:30 p.m., while Akron (14-6-2) and Michigan State (14-4-4) square off at 7 p.m.
The winners play for the championship Sunday at 7 p.m.
Indiana, making its 32nd straight NCAA appearance, is gunning for its ninth title.
A year ago, the Hoosiers came up short, losing 1-0 in double-overtime in the championship match to Stanford. It was the third straight title for the Cardinal and the only loss of the season for the Hoosiers.
“To be so close ... it definitely took some time to get over,” said Panchot, whose brother Logan was a freshman starter for Stanford. “But that loss is now our motivation. Since that day, we’ve been on a mission.”
Todd Yeagley, who is in his ninth season as Indiana’s head coach, can feel for Panchot and the other seven Hoosier seniors. Playing for his father, legendary coach Jerry Yeagley, Todd was a four-time All-American who led the Hoosiers to three Big Ten titles and to a runner-up NCAA finish as a senior.
“These guys played key roles last year on one of the best teams we’ve had — and that’s saying something,” said Yeagley, who coached Indiana to the NCAA title in 2012. “This season, they’ve helped us win the Big Ten regular-season and tournament championships, so no matter what happens this weekend, they’ve already made their mark. But being able to finish as national champions, to earn that star on the jersey ... it’s powerful.”
Panchot, 22, a midfielder, has five goals and four assists this season and he scored the game-winning goals in the Hoosiers’ last two NCAA victories.
“It’s always special when you can score a big goal, especially at this point of the season,” said Panchot, who will receive a marketing degree later this month. “Making it even more special was doing it in front of our home fans.”
“Austin plays with such grit and tenacity,” Yeagley said. “He’s one of those guys who’ll never be outworked.”
Other contributors for the Hoosiers this season include Big Ten freshman of the year Jack Maher (Althoff/SLSG) and versatile sophomore A.J. Palazzolo (CBC/SLSG).
“A.J. has really done a great job after missing last year due to injury,” Yeagley said. “He’s somebody who can do the job anywhere on the field. Jack’s stepped into a key spot and really done a great job. His experience with (St. Louis FC), getting a chance to train every day with men in a professional setting, it really helped prepare him for what’s been a very smooth transition into the college game.”