No member of the Ohio State men’s soccer team has ever played in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. In fact, five of the 12 players who have played more than 1,000 minutes this season were either freshmen in high school or in middle school the last team OSU made it there.
But that is where the team is set to play Friday, in its first semifinal matchup since 2009.
Senior midfielder Max Moller said he knows the significance of playing the game, even in uncharted waters.
“It’s definitely more important,” Moller said. “This is definitely special, especially it being my senior year, it means the world to me and all our seniors, so we’re very excited for this opportunity.”
Fellow senior midfielder Yianni Sarris echoed Moller’s feelings.
“It’s definitely an honor to be here, and I think definitely as a team we deserve it, for putting in hard work day-in and day-out in practice,” Sarris said.
No. 2 seed OSU (9-6-4, 5-3-0) is set for a rematch with No. 6 seed Indiana (11-3-5, 3-3-2), a team that defeated the Buckeyes in Columbus on Oct. 12, 2-1.
However, OSU coach John Bluem said he does not believe the version of the Buckeyes that fell to the Hoosiers last month is the same as the one currently taking the field.
“We’ve been playing very, very well,” Bluem said. “We’ve got maybe a little bit of momentum going, maybe that will be the difference maker.”
OSU has only lost one of its last seven games going into Friday. Much of that can be attributed to the emergence of sophomore forward Danny Jensen, who has scored four of his team co-leading five goals in OSU’s past five games, including the lone goal in OSU’s quarterfinal victory against Michigan on Sunday.
“I think Jensen’s better up top now than he was around when we first played Indiana, so I think we might be a little more dangerous in the attack now than we were when we played them the first time,” Bluem said.
Because of No. 1 seed Maryland’s 2-0 victory against Rutgers on Sunday, the semifinals and finals of the tournament are set to be played in College Park, Md. OSU would have hosted the rounds if the Terrapins had lost.
Sarris said the team is disappointed to have to travel, but will try not to let that alter its performance.
“It’s always nice to play at home, but obviously we have to play away, so we’re just going to treat it like it’s any other game,” Sarris said. “This could be the end of our season, so we’re going to go out and give it everything we have.”
However, Bluem said OSU’s familiarity with the pitch at Maryland’s Ludwig Field stemming from its Nov. 1 game could actually give it a sort of home-field advantage against Indiana.
“Going to a neutral site to play Indiana, maybe it’s a good thing,” Bluem said.
The Hoosiers played the Terrapins earlier this season, but the game was in Bloomington, Ind., not College Park.
Even if the Buckeyes’ trip to Maryland does not go as they hope, Bluem said he does not believe their season will end with a loss.
“I think our body of work looks very good right now through the end of the season and the Big Ten quarterfinal,” Bluem said.
“I think our chances, regardless of how we do this weekend, I believe we’ll make the NCAA Tournament.”
OSU currently ranks No. 23 in the RPI, which measures teams’ records in relation to strength of schedule. OSU has played nine of the teams currently standing in the top 30, including No. 6 Indiana. Bluem estimated that 12 or 13 teams on OSU’s schedule could make the NCAA Tournament.
OSU’s semifinal matchup against Indiana is set to kick off Friday at 1 p.m. The championship match, between the winners of OSU against Indiana and Maryland versus Michigan State, is set to be played at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday.