Sunday, December 9, 2012

IU Is King of Soccer Hill; Replogle is MVP; Etherington Out

So Indiana has its national championship, and if it didn’t come from basketball -- at least not yet -- who cares.

Cream 'n Crimson soccer has returned to the national forefront. Granted, it took an unconventional path, with the Hoosiers going 1-3-1 in their last five games leading into the NCAA tourney, but does that matter now?

Teams want to build momentum for the postseason. IU did the opposite, using defeat and disappointment to fuel its end-of-season drive. The Hoosiers were a No. 16 NCAA tourney seed and had to win at No. 1 Notre Dame and did. They had to win at defending champ North Carolina and did.

Finally, they had to beat title game newcomer Georgetown in Alabama and they did that, too, with Sunday’s 1-0 victory.

They won with defense (three straight shuts to wrap up its 5-game title run courtesy of goal keeper Luis Soffner, the College Cup’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player) and tough-minded offense (Nikita Kotlov scored the only goal against Georgetown via an Eriq Zavaleta assist) and a resiliency that once made coach Jerry Yeagley teams the most feared in the country. Now, his son, Todd (pictured), has done the same thing, and if it has only lasted three weeks, well, they were the three most important weeks.

Indiana also had one other bit of motivation. Strength coach Tom Morris was paralyzed in a off-road bike accident last May. His drive to over come that continues to inspire all who come in contact with him, including the soccer team. He was with the Hoosiers in Alabama.

Yes, that very much made a difference.

So IU was set to have a celebration when the team arrived back at Assembly Hall Sunday night from winning its eighth national championship and the first since 2004. The problem -- bad weather left the team plane stuck in Nashville, so the celebration was rescheduled.

No matter. The Hoosiers will enjoy the moment, and beyond.

And then it will face what all championship teams do, some more successfully that others:

The pressure to win it again next year.


In the end, was there any other choice?

Didn’t senior defensive tackle Adam Replogle HAVE to be IU’s football MVP? The guy performed on the field (a team-leading 13.0 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks, plus 71 total tackles), in the classroom (he was named an Academic All-American) and in team leadership (earning team captainship along with senior center Will Matte).

Earlier Replogle had made second-team All-Big Ten thanks to a vote from conference coaches and media.

Also, safety Greg Heban was named IU's Teammate of the Year, kicker Mitch Ewald was the Special Teams player of the year. Also, tight end Anthony Corsaro and running back Damon Graham were named Outstanding Walk-Ons of the Year. Running back Anthony Davis was named Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year and defensive tackle Michael Mitsch was Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year. Linebacker Griffen Dahlstrom, offensive lineman Bill Ivan and safeties Mark Murphy and Jake Zupancic earned the Academic Excellence Award.


What if Austin Etherington had made his second free throw?

We’ll never know, of course.

An ESPN special on Bo Jackson showed, on the football run that ruined his career, that if he had just gone out of bounds after a big gain, he might have gone on to the kind of two-sport superstar achievement no one could ever match.

But Jackson did not go out of bounds, just like Etherington didn’t make that free throw. So Jackson ran a few more yards, got tackled, tore up his hip and was never the same.

Etherington missed the free throw, so coach Tom Crean couldn’t take him out as he was ready to do. Etherington was in the game seconds later when he bumped knees with Central Connecticut State’s Terrell Allen and fractured his left patella (kneecap).

That was Saturday night. On Sunday morning Etherington had surgery to repair the damage. He’s looking at two months of immobilization and eight more months of rigorous and often painful rehabilitation.

It’s similar to what teammate Maurice Creek went through a couple of years ago. He returned the next season, although he had lost some leg strength and explosiveness.

Etherington has a chance to do Creek better. IU certainly has the medical and training staff to help him do that, if he’s willing to pay the price.

Etherington was not having a memorable season. He averaged 2.2 points and 1.8 rebounds in 7.5 minutes. That playing time might well have plunged now that freshman forwards Peter Jurkin and Hanner Perea are eligible, with senior forward Derek Elston expected back soon from his own knee surgery.

Etherington was supposed to replace Matt Roth as IU’s off-the-bench three-point-shooting threat. It didn’t happen. He was 1-for-3 from beyond the arc for the season, 3-for-11 for his career.

Nothing was said about that in the IU release that revealed Etherington’s status for the rest of the season.

“Anytime you lose a valued member of your program it not only hurts the team, but also everyone’s hearts,” Crean said in the release. “Austin has been doing an excellent job improving and now we have to help him overcome this setback and move forward.

“Our players have experience in this area and everyone is looking forward to helping him recover. As serious as his injury was, we are thankful that it was not worse. We have such an outstanding medical team I could not imagine going through something like this without them. We are fortunate to have them.”

Etherington will have a chance to do what Bo Jackson couldn't -- come back better than before. Here's hoping he makes it.

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