COLUMBIA — As difficult as the Missouri soccer team's nonconference schedule has been, one would expect relief, not appreciation.
The Tigers ended nonconference play Sunday with a 3-2 loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Walton Stadium. Despite a 2-4-2 record, Missouri preached the benefits of a path that included games against three ranked teams and five straight games on the road.
“Our coaches told us we play this tough schedule for a reason," sophomore defender Sarah Thune said. "We could be playing teams that we could be beating 5-0, 6-0, but we’re playing these tough teams for a reason: to get better and to get us ready for conference play.”
Missouri begins Big 12 Conference play when they host Kansas on Friday.
“We’re certainly tested,” coach Bryan Blitz said. “We’ve kind of seen everything that we need to see, and we’ve come out on the good end and come out on the bad end.
“I think we’ll get what we want out of it. We’ll find that out in the end.”
Thune said the experience helped the Tigers, who had nine freshmen and sophomores start at least one game, grow.
“We’ve definitely come a long way,” Thune said. “We’re learning. We’re a pretty young team.”
Missouri faced another challenge in Sunday afternoon's game: rain. Rain from Saturday night and Sunday morning made for a soggy playing surface.
“The conditions were hard to deal with so it ended being a really hard, sloppy, who’s-going-to-get-to-the-ball-first kind of game,” senior goalie Paula Pritzen said.
Missouri scored first with Thune's first career goal in the 30th minute.
“With the conditions, it was not such a good surface, so when I got in there and got my chance to play I tried to play as simple as possible, saw the open goal and took the shot,” Thune said.
The Panthers scored a goal less than three minutes later and took the lead in the 48th minute with a score from junior forward Sarah Hagen.
Another goal in the 61st minute gave the Panthers a two-goal advantage, after which Pritzen was replaced in goal with sophomore Jessica Gwin.
Sophomore midfielder Haley Krentz got the Tigers within a goal in the 72nd minute by scoring off a corner kick.
The loss leaves Missouri needing to make adjustments before facing the Jayhawks.
“There’s never room for mistakes,” Pritzen said. “A lot of it is what kind of character you show after you make a mistake. We definitely need to be sharper mentally and focus for 90 minutes.”