COLUMBIA — After clinching the Big 12 tournament championship last year, the Missouri soccer team (3-2-0) started off its season facing some high expectations. In the preseason, the Tigers were predicted to finish first in the Big 12 and were ranked No. 11 by Soccer America magazine.
But to captain Meghan Pfeiffer, that doesn’t matter.
The MU women's soccer team plays at 7 p.m. tonight against Auburn in the Auburn Tournament.
“Rankings don’t really mean anything; it's just a number,” she said. “If we’re good enough to win the Big 12, then we know we can beat anyone.”
Pfeiffer, a fifth-year senior for the Tigers, is the oldest member of the veteran team and functions as one of its leaders this season. Coach Bryan Blitz said that Pfeiffer, or Mugzy as her teammates call her, grew into her role as captain.
“I think she led so much by example and work ethic and then the team voted her captain,” he said. “She gives the younger players perspective when they freak out a little bit. She’s able to bring composure and the bigger picture to settle them down a little bit.”
But Pfeiffer hasn’t always been one of the team’s standouts. During her freshman year, she was given a medical redshirt after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament during the Black and Gold scrimmage against the men’s club team.
“It was sort of weird because I didn’t feel like I was a part of the team,” she said. “I didn’t go to practice because I’d be rehabbing, and the only thing I did that was involved with the team was sitting at their home games. I was pretty much a fan.”
Pfeiffer pushed through her rehab period to join back up with the team during spring training.
“I sort of sucked afterward, but you can either choose to keep sucking and have your career end there, or you can make it through it, and coach and my teammates helped me a lot,” she said.
Pfeiffer made it through rehab and started 17 of 19 games the following season, scoring eight points. During last year’s season, she was named to the NSCAA/adidas All-Central Regional third team, the All-Big 12 second team and the Big 12 All-Tournament team.
Blitz said Pfeiffer’s ferocity on the field is what sets her apart from others.
“When I first saw her play, what first stood out about her was that she was very competitive,” he said. “At the time, she wasn’t the biggest player, but she always played really big, and there was just something I liked about her spirit. She’s really fierce and kind of a warrior type of player.”
Pfeiffer said she also has more talent when she leaves her feet than most of her opponents.
“(Heading the ball) is a mentality,” Pfeiffer said. “I’m mostly shorter and weigh less than most of the center midfielders, but its not just about size. Most girls are scared to head the ball. You can’t really train to do it because it's not really a skill — you can only coach it so much because you either have it or not.”
Despite her aggressive play, Blitz compared Pfeiffer to Yoda.
“She doesn’t say much, but when she does, people really listen,” he said.
Pfeiffer said she was elected captain based on what she does both on and off the field.
“I’m kind of a silent leader, and people feed off my energy during games,” she said. “I have a lot of respect for my team, and they trust what I do. On the field I have a presence — but I get decent grades, I’m not at the bars late every night, I don’t get in trouble, so I represent Mizzou soccer in a good way.”
The Tigers lost 4-1 last Sunday against Long Beach State and spent this week preparing to go to the Auburn Tournament, which Blitz said will be the team’s biggest challenge yet. Missouri will play Auburn (2-0-2) Friday and Vanderbilt (5-0-0) Sunday.
“At this point we’ve just kind of started all over,” Blitz said. “We’re going back to what we do at Mizzou soccer. We can play harder than everyone else, and we’re just going back to practice — and I think that’s how we’ll be successful, and we kind of got away from that at first.”
Pfeiffer said aggressiveness is a key part of playing well and cites a lack of it as the reason for a slow start to the season.
“Well here’s the thing: We’ve been lacking competitiveness, and skill can only take you so far in college soccer,” she said. “We have skill. We’ve proven that. This week in practice they’ve been teaching us to get the competitive edge back that we had the past two years.”
Blitz said the team has to move forward and learn to cope with opponents’ expectations.
“I think our team is starting to learn how hard it is to have a bull’s-eye on your back, and that’s something we’ve never had to deal with,” he said. “I think we’re just having to deal with those expectations now.”