Hoosier hype

Courtney McCarty

It’s a small hike to the top of the bleachers, the school bandtoots the fight song from behind the bench and cheerleaders pump upthousands of rowdy fans.

No, it’s not a football stadium. It’s game day for the Indianasoccer team.

Contrast that with Northwestern’s Lakeside Field, where a fewhundred fans dot the small set of stands and quietly watch. Despiteits breathtaking view of Lake Michigan, it still is merely a soccerfield.

NU soccer is last in the Big Ten in attendance, managing justunder 250 fans per game. But when the Cats travel to Bloomington,Ind., on Sunday, they will see Hoosiers fans who passionatelysupport their team.

Third-ranked Indiana leads the Big Ten in home attendance thisseason with an average of 3,288 fans per game. In the past threeseasons, Indiana has been in the nation’s top three teams foraverage attendance.

“The soccer players are B.M.O.C. — big men on campus,” Indianacoach Mike Freitag said. “Taking football and basketball out of theequation, I think our soccer team is more recognized than otherteams, if not the most recognized.”

That’s because, in college soccer, Indiana is the team.

The defending national champions have claimed the title sixtimes while racking up the most wins and the highest win percentagein both regular- and post-season play in Division I soccerhistory.

“Indiana is the premier college program in the country,” NUcoach Tim Lenahan said. “They set the bar — everyone else fightsfor it.”

For NU (7-3-2, 0-1-1 Big Ten), playing at Indiana may not bepleasant, because that’s where the Hoosiers play best. The lasttime Indiana lost at home was to Notre Dame, three years to the daybefore Sunday’s matchup with the Cats.

Although Indiana (8-2-1, 3-0) will have the home-fieldadvantage, NU players said the pumped-up crowd will help bothteams’ performances by boosting the energy level. That energyhelped the Cats at Indiana two years ago despite a 1-0 loss, saidjunior midfielder Alex Renzi.

“Going into Indiana and just knowing there will be a lot ofpeople watching the game makes you want to raise your game and playa little harder,” Renzi said. “All around, it’s cool when there’s alot of people cheering and booing you. It gives you more energy toplay.”

Sunday’s matchup will be a battle between offensive powerhouseNU and defensive master Indiana. The Cats continue to lead theconference in scoring, while Indiana has allowed only nine goals in11 games. NU has the Big Ten’s leading scorer, Gerardo Alvarez,while Indiana has the Big Ten’s leading goalkeeper, Jay Nolly, whohas a .78 goals-against average.

The Hoosiers are ranked first in the Big Ten while NU is fifthof seven teams in the conference.

But NU defender Jaro Pylypczak said he isn’t intimidated byIndiana’s reputation; the junior is just looking forward toexperiencing Indiana’s exciting atmosphere once again.

“You have to go out and play your heart out,” Pylypczak said.”It’s definitely a boost. And if you have more emotion than theother team, it’s a big advantage, even if they are on paper themore skilled team.”

Reach Courtney McCarty at [email protected].