COLUMBIA — The first round of the NCAA women’s soccer tournament kicks off Friday with Big 12 Conference champion Missouri serving as one of 16 regional hosts.
At 4 p.m. at Walton Stadium, Illinois plays Memphis. No. 10-ranked Missouri plays Evansville at 7 p.m.
Missouri is seeded fourth in its bracket after finishing the season 15-5-1. North Carolina (19-1-2) received the top seed, Florida (17-3-1) is seeded second and Texas A&M (15-4-1) is seeded third.
This is the second consecutive year the Tigers have competed in the NCAA tournament, falling in the second round last year in a double overtime loss to eventual national champion Southern California. It will be the fourth time the Missouri program has hosted a regional.
“We’re really excited to see how far we can get in the tournament this year,” senior Mallory Forst said. “We used to be a team where there would be starters and there would be subs, and there was a fine line between those positions. But this is the first year that we can play anyone on the bench.”
The 2008 season has been a record-setting one for the Tigers. The team’s 13 regular-season victories set a school record, as did its 11 shutouts and 21 points in conference play. They enter Walton Stadium on an eight-game home winning streak, the longest in the program’s history.
Evansville (13-4-2) received a bid after winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament on Sunday. Seniors Kayla Lambert and Mia Tofano, both from Las Vegas, lead the Purple Ace’s offense as two of the top three scorers in the Missouri Valley Conference. It will be the fourth tournament appearance for Evansville.
Illinois’ strong defense earned the team its sixth-straight tournament invitation. The Illini (11-8-1) finished their season fifth in the Big Ten Conference after being eliminated in the first round of the conference tournament by Michigan State. The Illini defense, led by junior goalkeeper Alexandra Kapickal, has only allowed one goal in 13 of its past 14 matches.
Memphis (15-4-2) claims back-to-back Conference USA tournament championships. The Lady Tigers enter the tournament on a 10-game winning streak that began with a 1-0 win over Houston on Oct. 10. The game marks the first time that Memphis has faced any opponent from the Big Ten.
But, Forst explained, conferences don’t matter in this competition.
“In the NCAA tournament," she said, "any team can beat anyone.”
The winners of Friday’s games will play at 1 p.m. Sunday for the chance to advance to the Sweet 16.