COLUMBIA — At this time last year, the Missouri women’s soccer team had the opportunity to clinch the Big 12 Conference title for the first time in program history. Instead of winning the three games that separated it from that title, the team went 2-1, finishing in third.
This year, the Tigers are in first place in the Big 12, but they’re trying not to get too comfortable.
Iowa State (7-6-4, 2-5-0) vs. Missouri (10-4-3, 5-0-2)
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. today
WHERE: Walton Stadium
Nebraska (9-3-4, 3-2-2) vs. Missouri (10-4-3, 5-0-2)
WHEN: 1 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Walton Stadium
“We’re a lot more mature this year with seven seniors, so we know how it felt last year,” senior goalkeeper Tasha Dittamore said. “We know what we did last year to ruin our conference championship we could have had. I think that everybody’s really just this year making sure we don’t take anybody lightly, don’t think that anything’s a walk-through and that’s how we’re going to go after it.”
Missouri coach Bryan Blitz said in order to win the Big 12, his team is focusing on being consistent and learning from its mistakes.
“We’ve improved from last year. … We’ve been consistently good, which is our goal. It’s easy to be up and down, but one of our goals is to be consistently good,” Blitz said. “I’m hoping we learned some lessons from last year being in the same position and letting it slip away as opposed to this year we want to make sure it doesn’t.”
Not only would winning the Big 12 be a milestone for the soccer program, it would also mark only the second time a Missouri team has won a regular season Big 12 title. Senior Bree Thornton said despite being in first place and having the opportunity to win, there is nothing for the team to celebrate yet.
“I think we’re just realizing that we haven’t done anything yet,” Thornton said. "I mean there’s nothing to get excited about right now. We have to stay humble and realize that we haven’t accomplished anything. We’re in a good position, but we know it can slip away. I think it means a lot more to us because of what happened last year.”
The Tigers (10-4-3) are undefeated in conference play, but they started off the nonconference season 5-4-1. Dittamore, Blitz and Thornton all agreed on what weekend changed their season.
“I think after the Long Beach loss and after getting beat pretty bad by a team like UCLA, that we all stepped up, we changed the way we were practicing and started going harder,” Dittamore said. “I think everyone was just like, ‘OK, this isn’t our team, this isn’t how we’re going to go out, let’s step it up and everyone just got our minds right, and that’s when we turned it around.”
With only three games left, the seniors' careers at Missouri are quickly drawing to a close. The team will celebrate senior night Friday before its game against Iowa State. Multiple seniors have won weekly awards this year including Dittamore, who was honored twice as Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week, and Thornton, who received the honor of Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week.
“I think (this weekend is) going to be pretty emotional,” Dittamore said. “We’ve gotten emotional after some wins, you know after the OU game, some of us were kind of emotional after that win. It's our last home weekend here as seniors, so that’s pretty sad, so I think there’s going to be some emotion after that game.”
Blitz said the seniors played a major role in the team's success this year.
"I think the team goes as the seniors go," he said. "They’re the ones with the maturity, they’re the ones with the experience, and we put a lot of trust in our seniors because they have been there, and they have seen everything."
Despite feelings of nostalgia this weekend, the team is focused on a strong finish to the season.
“It would be huge (to win the Big 12 Conference),” Dittamore said. “We’ve won the Big 12 tournament, but we’ve never won the Big 12 Conference, and we want to be the first class to do that, and that would be a pretty nice way to go out. We’ve got ourselves in a good position and we just really need to make sure we finish it now.”