Indy Eleven Wins USL W Championship With Zionsville Native Annika Creel on Board
Writer / Ryan Kennedy
As the world turned its attention to the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Indianapolis’ own soccer team competed for glory much closer to home. Led by homegrown players and local coaches, the Indy Eleven women’s team won the USL W championship in the team’s second year of existence.
For Indy Eleven Head Coach Paul Dolinsky, the journey to a championship started after last season’s playoff loss to Minnesota. “I don’t actually remember saying this, but multiple people have backed it up,” he says. “Apparently we got on the bus last year after we lost to Minnesota, and the first thing out of my mouth was, ‘We’re not losing next year.’ I don’t know if my subconscious kicked in, but that was the mindset from the beginning. We’re going to win a championship.”
During his first year as head coach, also the Indy Eleven women’s inaugural season, the Carmel native led the Eleven to an undefeated season, one of only three teams to complete the year without a loss. Despite his proclamation on the team bus, the Eleven did lose, but only once, and that loss was avenged with a 16-0 drubbing of Saint Charles. That victory gave the team momentum as they entered the playoffs. Four matches later, the Indy Eleven were champions.
Dolinsky says the leadership and high character shown by the team set them up for a championship run. “I think all credit has to be given to the buy-in of the girls, and the leadership that some of the more experienced girls provided in big moments throughout the course of the playoff run,” he says. “I think they set a standard, they set a tone, and it allowed the new girls or the younger girls a great example to follow. Whoever was on the field, whether they started the game or came in off the bench, everybody was bought into, to the task at hand.”
One of those players was Zionsville native Annika Creel.
Creel played four years at Zionsville Community High School, where she was two-time all-state. Creel spent two seasons at the University of Connecticut, one as a redshirt freshman, before transferring to Butler University where she played three seasons. After college, Creel signed briefly with Houston’s NWSL team before COVID-19 derailed the season. From there Creel flew to Sweden and played a season with Goteborg FC. While in Sweden, Creel got a call from Houston saying they wanted to bring her back. Creel played two seasons with Houston. During the preseason of her third year in Houston, Creel tore her ACL. A few months later she tore the meniscus in that same knee. She and Houston parted ways.
Back home again in Indiana, Creel continued rehabbing her knee. With the season approaching its end, Indy Eleven reached out to her to see if she’d be interested in joining the team. Creel says it was the perfect opportunity for her and her freshly rebuilt knee to get back on the pitch.
Creel appeared in six matches for Indy Eleven. She contributed a key assist to keep the Eleven’s playoff run alive. “All I wanted to do was contribute in the best possible way I could for the team and what everyone else needed,” she says. “It was amazing. The environment was awesome and I was really grateful for that chance and that opportunity to do that with that team.”
“For all the wrong reasons that things didn’t work out in Houston for her, she was given an opportunity to play in front of family, friends, and play for the city of Indianapolis, and I think that that meant a lot to her,” Dolinsky says.
Creel couldn’t find the words to describe what winning the championship meant to her. Grateful is the word she kept coming back to.
“I’ve been in Indiana for my most of my soccer career, and came back to Indiana because that’s where home was for me when I was away at UConn, and came back to play in Indiana and in Indianapolis for Butler,” Creel says. “You also get into the fact where we were playing in front of a crowd of more than 5,000 people. To be honest, it was a better environment than some of the NWSL games that I’ve been in because the fans were so committed. They were so dedicated, and that’s the environment you hope for as the women’s game continues to grow – and Indy is already there. I think it was really incredible how many people came out to support the team.”
For more on the Indy Eleven team, go to indyeleven.com/wleague.