Indiana enters WPIAL playoffs on winning run
Just past the halfway point of the regular season and a game away from the midway point of the section schedule, the normally strong Indiana boys soccer program's season was teetering on the precipice of mediocrity.
The Little Indians fell to 5-4 overall and 3-2 in Section 1-AA play with a 2-1 defeat at Burrell Sept. 20. It was their third loss in four games.
Ravaged by a spate of injuries, Indiana could have accepted its fate as a middle-of-the-pack kind of team, one that still could, perhaps, scratch its way into a playoff berth.
Instead, the Indians got together and decided they weren't going to take that anymore.
“I think they looked inside themselves a little bit and said, ‘We can do better than this,' ” Indiana coach Todd Myers said.
The Indians had a team talk. Went over some things. Made some adjustments. Cleared the air.
They haven't lost since.
“After the Burrell loss, we really thought we were a better team than that,” senior goalkeeper Scott McKirgan said. “After that game, we decided, ‘We're the best team in this section,' and from there we knew we had to step up and show people that.”
Indiana carries a seven-game winning streak into its regular-season finale against Bishop Canevin today. The Indians have outscored opponents, 20-1, during that stretch and avenged losses to Valley and Burrell.
The run earned Indiana (12-4, 10-2) the outright section title.
“We're real happy,” Myers said. “We were sitting halfway through the season with a couple (section) losses, and we were starting to question ourselves a little bit. After a good team talk and after questioning some pride issues, every player on the team tended to step up.
“Plus, we got healthy.”
Yes, the other part of the equation for the Indians' turnaround: Injuries. At one point this season, Indiana was without five key contributors — four were starters, including last season's leading scorer, Mason Lockard.
For a loss to Valley on Sept. 13, Myers said the Indians started their “fifth-string” goalkeeper.
“As a coaching staff, we got together and thought about what we needed to do, so we moved some guys around into positions they hadn't been playing,” Myers said.
“The injuries, in a weird way, helped us quite a bit because it made everyone step back and take a good look at the bigger picture of the whole team and where we were.”
Before the season turning point, Indiana had allowed 14 goals in nine games. Opponents have scored only once in seven contests since.
A group of senior leaders were prominent in the turnaround. It's no coincidence that the Indians' three captains all are defensive players — goalie McKirgan and center fullbacks Jacob Williamson-Rea, a senior, and junior Jem Bailey-Orchard.
“As a team, we really elevated our defensive play,” McKirgan said. “As captains, we knew we had to step up and lead in that area.”
Sophomore Cole Rosenberger has led the way offensively. When Lockard got hurt, Indiana moved Rosenberger from center midfield up to forward. He responded with a team-high 18 goals.
Now Lockard is back, and the offense is humming at a level to match the defense with the playoffs set to get under way this weekend.
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.