BLOOMINGTON — Indiana soccer coach Todd Yeagley was talking about “another wonderful story from Columbus,” former ball boys Dylan Lax and Matt McKain living their dream of playing for the Hoosiers in the NCAA’s soccer final four, or “College Cup.”
Yeagley understands how much it meant to Lax and McKain when they were young boys, and he knows what it means to them now.
“I was that kid,” said Yeagley, who had just come off the practice field after preparing his team for Friday’s 7:30 p.m. match against Creighton in the national semifinals at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala.
Yeagley was a ball boy during the time his father, Jerry Yeagley, was putting together the most successful coaching career in NCAA soccer history, winning 544 games and six NCAA titles during his 30-year career that ended in 2003. He had the same dreams as Lax and McKain, and as they have done now, became a Hoosier soccer player.
Hoosiers seek NCAA title
WHAT: Indiana University at NCAA College Cup (soccer final four)
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Regions Park, Hoover, Ala.
WHO: Indiana (14-5-3) vs. Creighton (17-3-3), with winner advancing to Sunday’s 2 p.m. title match against the winner of Friday’s Georgetown-Maryland match
DID YOU KNOW? The Hoosiers, who have won seven national titles, are making their first College Cup appearance since 2004.
His playing career lasted from 1991 through 1994, and his final season he was a first-team All American.
“That can be the heart and soul of what makes your program go,” Yeagley said of his early years around the program. “It’s that passion, that love for the program. And those two almost are like big brothers.”
Indiana has been to 26 straight NCAA Tournaments but hasn’t been to a College Cup since 2004, when Lax and McKain were youth soccer players falling in love with the program.
“It is awesome now just to be part of this team,” said Lax, a red-shirt sophomore midfielder who earned a starting role toward the end of this season. “I went to soccer camp at Indiana six straight years, and this always has been a dream of mine. It’s actually really weird. During my junior and senior years at Columbus North, I would go to the College Cup to watch. I remember thinking, ‘I would love to do something like that.’ “
Not only is he doing it, but he will be making the trip with McKain, one of his best friends.
“We went to kindergarten together,” Lax said. “We’ve played soccer together since our Park and Rec days. We’ve played club and high school soccer together.”
McKain is a junior defender who has started all 20 games this season. He was the Columbus North Most Valuable Player after his senior season in 2009.
“This has been magical,” McKain said of Indiana’s run to the final four. The Hoosiers (14-5-3) were the No. 16 seed in the tournament and they went 1-2-1 over their final four games before the tournament began. However, they beat Xavier (4-1), No. 1 seed Notre Dame (2-1 double overtime) and No. 9 seed North Carolina (1-0) in the tournament to reach the Soccer Cup.
“I honestly think our poor ending motivated us,” McKain said. “I don’t know what changed things for us, but since the postseason began, it seems like our team is closer.”
McKain and Lax have been close for a long time.
“We’ve been teammates in basketball, baseball and soccer,” McKain said. “It’s been cool to watch Dylan grow this season. It’s been a nice plus. We’ve had a lot of guys step up for this team, and he definitely is one of them.”
While McKain was a goal-scoring machine before his days at Indiana, he now is a defender.
“I work hard every game to do my best and play my role,” McKain said.
Both Columbus players have key roles for Todd Yeagley, who has brought Indiana back to the final four in his third season as head coach.
“It must be something in the water in Columbus,” Yeagley said. “These guys (McKain, Lax) are like Lee Hagedorn, who had a great career here.
Hagedorn was a Columbus North graduate and a starting midfielder for the Hoosiers through the 2009 season.
“Matt is going to be another good one like Lee if he continues to develop,” Yeagley said. “He is not a finished product yet. He is a modest player who doesn’t take plays off. He is one of our fittest players, and he needs to be.”
Yeagley said McKain has made a great adjustment to life as a defensive player.
“That’s absolutely our formula here,” Yeagley said. “We take an attacking player and have him learn the nuances of the defensive position. You can tell quick if they have the footwork for it.”
Lax is the classic overachiever.
“He is a fantastic young man, and whether it is his work rate, his focus or his work behind the scenes, he has been a pleasure to coach,” Yeagley said. “He certainly has exceeded where we thought he would be.
“He is not incredibly gifted, but he is solid in a lot of things. He is so focused and he plays within himself. You can’t rattle him.”
Lax said he has a simple formula. “I’ve come to find that if you work your butt off every day, listen to the coaches and if you have more heart and work harder than the guy next to you, it pays off.”
It has paid off for Lax and the Hoosiers.
“It is so cool to be part of this,” McKain said. “I always thought our team was capable of doing this. It’s something I’ve always wanted.”