“This is a big-time program we’re playing,” said Celtnieks, who coached IUP for 23 seasons. “They even brought cheerleaders along. So I thought, man, we’re really in for it. Then they score early. This big stud, six foot five, scores on a head ball, and I’m thinking, oh no, this is not good.”
The Indians, undeterred, began swarming the Alabama-Huntsville net. Wolk tied the match early in the second half, Bouman buried a penalty kick to put the Indians in front, and Wolk added an insurance goal. Goalkeeper Akomaye Adie-Ikor preserved the lead with a series of acrobatic saves as IUP humbled yet another elite foe.
“In some ways, it’s kind of hard to explain how we did it,” Saunders said. “We just played above ourselves, kind of overachieved, in some of those games.”
But just as IUP’s giddy postseason run was gathering serious momentum, Spring Arbor (Michigan) threw up a roadblock and won 3-2 in a shootout. The winningest season in school history (12-8) was, well, history. Still, the Indians could take consolation in knowing they had elevated their game—and the program’s national profile—that fall. With Gladden spearheading the charge, they cut down some of the premier teams in the land, proving themselves giant slayers to rival David.
“That’s a memory I’ll never forget,” Bouman said. “Going to a national tournament was pretty cool, and then to finish sixth? I look back on that as a great accomplishment.”
For one week, at least, the overachieving underdogs from IUP were a trending topic in Illinois—and even on their own campus.
“We had the school looking at us instead of at football and basketball and some of the other teams that were better known and more supported,” Saunders said. “Soccer in Western Pennsylvania back then just wasn’t a big sport. So it was pretty special for us to go to a national tournament and do so well there. For a brief little time, we kind of stepped into the limelight.”