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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 9:56 am

Hoosiers back for annual showcase

Kyle Rowland The Journal Gazette

The phone calls begin shortly after the previous season ends. 

Indiana men’s soccer coach Todd Yeagley fields requests from across the country and all corners of the globe – colleges and professional clubs wanting to play an exhibition against the eight-time national champion Hoosiers.

Two spots are reserved.

"When we build our spring schedule, there are two games that we first work to get done," Yeagley said, "and that’s our game in Fort Wayne with Notre Dame and our game in Mexico."

IU travels the three hours from Bloomington to Fort Wayne on Saturday for its annual matchup with the Irish, a 6 p.m. match at Saint Francis’ Bishop D’Arcy Stadium. The game is part of the Shindigz National Soccer Festival, a Fort Wayne staple that’s done wonders in growing soccer in northeast Indiana.

The event began as a lofty vision of Terry Stefankiewicz and has grown from a local gathering into a national sensation, featuring high school teams from the state and college teams from around the country, all in the name of promoting healthy lifestyles and to combat childhood obesity.

"It’s always been a good event on all accounts," Yeagley said. "We get asked to play in a lot of different places in the spring. Some pro teams offer to take care of us and play a game. But we feel it’s important to continue to play in our own state and where a lot of our players have grown up in and around those communities.

"It’s a nice continuum that helps build the sport in our state. The showcase between Notre Dame and IU is a great way to grow the game."

The Hoosiers defeated then-No. 1 Notre Dame 1-0 on Oct. 22 in Bloomington. The stakes Saturday won’t mirror a regular-season game but that doesn’t lessen the importance for the participants. The spring season began in early March, three to four months after the 2014 season ended.

"First and foremost, the athletes want to play," Yeagley said. "It’s a long time for them to train and not have opportunities to perform. That keeps them going. That’s what they compete and play for – it’s the competition.

"We like to go places where there are crowds and maybe more on the line. How does a freshman or sophomore deal with playing against a good team and handle the crowd? That’s something you get to see. Spring games are very helpful."

It’s also a benefit when the opponent is a quality team. Notre Dame finished last year with a 12-5-4 record and advanced to the third round of the NCAA tournament where it fell 1-0 to eventual national champion Virginia. The expectations haven’t dipped in South Bend.

And they’re always elevated at IU. The game may be deemed a friendly, but this is no spring picnic.

"There’s an interesting balance we face in these spring games," Yeagley said. "The good news is Notre Dame is a really good team, so we get a good gage. I lean more on trying to find that balance of we need to tinker and see something from players. I’m not going to make wholesale changes. This is a game where we’ll experiment. I’ll put a strong group out there, but I’ll put a few guys out there that could change in the fall.

"It’s purely about positional depth and experimentation to make (coaches) and players more comfortable."

krowland@jg.net