Todd Yeagley and the Indiana men's soccer team sent 2012 out in style last month, grabbing the program's eighth national championship after three successive 1-0 victories led them to glory at the College Cup in Hoover, Ala.
The title was Yeagley's third as a coach at Indiana, but first as the man in charge of the storied program for which he was once a standout player and Hermann Trophy recipient. Yeagley sat down two weeks ago with Inside Indiana to discuss that championship run, what went into it and what's next. Here is part two of that extensive interview.
You just mentioned Jacob Bushue and his willingness to play through that torn meniscus. Fair to say everything went well with the surgery?
Real clean surgery. And again, we knew he couldn’t hurt it any worse, so we always were gonna protect Jacob. But the doctors and the surgeon said, ‘Let him play. He can tolerate some discomfort. Pull him back when he needs it,’ and he didn’t train much, so he was losing fitness down the whole stretch. But we just managed him, gave him some anti-inflammatories, and we had the surgery scheduled pretty much three weeks ago, as soon as the season was over. That way he gets back, gets to rehab quicker, and he’ll be back playing with us in the early spring.
In Bushue's stead, after you moved him upfield to attack, Dylan Lax really seemed to grow into that defensive midfield role. How key was he in your defensive success in the postseason?
We’ve said that interesting things happen that help you get to this point. Adversity, whether it’s a loss or it’s the loss of a player, Bushue going to (center) back in the Kentucky game forced us to play some cards differently. We gave Dylan a shot, played some spot duty in midfield, did a nice job, and he kept getting bwetter and better, so we said, ‘Let’s give him a start.’ He played fantastic. We left that game going, ‘This guy can help us.’ We already knew he could, but for sustained periods.
His range and his toughness. He just didn’t get tired, Dylan. Incredible fitness level. So once Jacob came back and we started obviously doing well, and then Jacob gets hurt right about the time we started sliding a little bit, that Michigan State game, we throw Dylan back in.
Each game, he keeps getting better and better, and we decided, instead of moving Jacob back, where we know if he takes any knock or a strange cut when he’s not feeling good, use him higher up the field to give us some toughness. We said, ‘Dylan has got the body of work to help us,’ and he was a huge reason we won it. If you would have said to our team or our staff to start the year, ‘Would Dylan Lax will be starting in a national final?’ I don’t think anyone would have checked that box as a likelihood.
Great story. And what’s great about Dylan is he somewhat epitomizes the backbone of the program with workrate, kind of coming through adversity of his own, in the sense of the odds, the (program's) transition from club to varsity, where guys, they just outwork the other guy. We’ve had great players since, but Dylan kind of epitomizes a lot of the core values, and just working and doing your job, and not worrying about things out of your control, coaches’ decisions and what have you. Great example, and now he’s started a national final and helped us get there. I see good things for Dylan these last two years.
Does his emergence make filling in Caleb Konstanski's now-vacated role? And does Michael Soderlund help ease the blow of losing Luis Soffner?
We’ll have to see. A lot of it will depend upon how the freshmen come in, which we can talk about in February, once we get that list figured out. Jacob and Dylan are both guys that can play — Jacob’s probably the most versatile player, one of two or three on our team, where you could put him literally anywhere and he’s pretty effective in different ways. Jacob also could move back a little bit.
Jacob played center back in the Kentucky game and did very well. We will talk about that. Dylan Lax might be able to play in the back. We know he can. So we have two guys right there that, one of them could easily slide back a notch and play next to Kerel Bradford, without even obviously talking about any new players that come into the fold. Internally, we feel good about positioning one of them in one of those spots.
See how the competition is internally, and keep reevaluating, but obviously, Caleb’s a big loss with Louie, but we’ve got a really competitive young guy with Mike Soderlund emerging, Sean Wideman returning. We’ll have a competitive new player come in at that position, and so we’ll have competition, but yea, I think we have somebody ready to step in and play in goal. And we’ll continue to keep adding pieces to other parts of the field as we go through this recruiting class.
You've talked about Soderlund as a guy who really pushed Soffner to improve to the player he was this year. Has he kind of proved himself as a potential heir apparent? Did that competition improve both ways?
What was great about is that, you know, Michael pushed Louie, no question, and Louie would be the first to tell you. Louie would not have had his last two years if it wasn’t for Michael, and Nate (Mitchell) and Sean, all changing a bit and improving, Michael really being the catalyst for that, being a young, really talented kid.
And I feel just in the contrast that Louie’s composure, Louie’s way he deals with people, Louie’s way to handle things, Michael’s learned from. Louie’s got a great calmness to him, how he handles situations, how he handles adversity. He’s pretty tough on himself, but he’s also one that, how he talks to other people, I think Michael, as a goalkeeper who needs to organize and keep people in front of him playing at their best, Louie was a good example of how effective communication can make the group in front of you play tight and disciplined, but also have a composure. And I think that will help Michael and all our goalies, for next year.
Without trying to sound too cliche, can a coach see a season like this -- and in particular a run like this -- coming? With more time to put it in perspective, do you think there were signs of this?
I feel there’s a couple things. Nothing is more tangible than doing what this group did. It’s somewhat stating the obvious that win you win it, it’s easy to claim, but I felt those small steps happening for the last two years. We said it after last year, that UNC on the road mentality, that group, as we say all the time, expected to win that game. Didn’t, and that could have been the final. That could have been any game. It happened to be the Sweet Sixteen game. That team expected to win.
And we talked about it. You can say as a player or as a coach, this is how you need to respond, but they felt it. That took time to build that. It didn’t just happen. You can’t walk into any team and expect that. You’ve got to have some success along the way, and the right guys in the right culture, and I think that’s where I knew things were going well. The experience of our players here, they were leaving with that positive experience that again, a championship doesn’t define it. I always say that it doesn’t define it. That’s the bonus, and that again is a commonality that makes it special in its own way. I felt we were moving in that direction.
The championship certainly helps validate it from a statistical standpoint, and outside observation, but I knew internally, we were right where we needed to be, and that’s where you smile and say, alright, the experience, the performance, what we were seeing from our players, and again, how the IU soccer family was strong, was gonna be there, and then as you say, championships and wins somewhat come along with that.
This is Part II of a two-part interview with men's soccer coach Todd Yeagley, looking back at the Hoosiers' championship season. To read Part I, click here.