COLUMBIA — Hours before road games, the Missouri soccer team engages in a battle.
Two teams face each other. The competition is intense and rapid. The quicker you move and the faster your instincts, the better your chance of survival.
Missouri (5-8-2, 3-4 Big 12) at Baylor (10-5-2, 3-4)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Betty Lou Mays Soccer Field, Waco, Texas
But Missouri isn’t pitted against the opposing team just yet, and it isn’t playing soccer.
Instead, the Tigers are playing dodgeball. Before every road game the Tigers play the gym class classic in their walk-through to get comfortable with the new field and blow off some steam in the process.
“You’re loose and you have a little bit of fun before the game so you let out your nervous energy,” freshman Alex Charlebois said.
The tradition will likely continue as Missouri ends the regular season with three straight games on the road, starting with Baylor at 7 p.m. on Friday in Waco, Texas.
Here's how the game is played:
- The Tigers split up into two teams. “Sometimes it’s blondes versus brunettes, sometimes its dog lovers against cat lovers,” Missouri coach Bryan Blitz said. “We mix it up differently every time.”
- A line of six rubber balls are placed at the center of the soccer field.
- Players line up on their respective sides.
- The game begins and the pelting ensues.
Junior forward Kendra Collins said games can last anywhere from three to five minutes, and the winning team is sometimes carried to the sidelines by the losing team.
“It’s just something to keep up the competition level and make sure we’re not taking anything too seriously,” Collins said. “Just keep our heads clear.”
Playing dodgeball with her teammates has made Collins acutely aware of who she wants on her side.
Despite the fun intentions, competition can get fierce. Collins knew about the walk-through tradition before coming to MU because her sister Michelle Collins, a former Tigers forward who graduated last year, sprained her finger in a game of dodgeball.
“Sometimes we have to stop it and say, ‘Hey, save that for tonight,’” Blitz said.
Blitz estimated the team started playing dodgeball in its walk-through four years ago.
“We did it once, the kids loved it, and we just kept it,” Blitz said.
The time of Missouri’s walk-through depends on the game’s starting time. If it’s a night game, the Tigers will work out on the field in the morning. If it’s an afternoon game, the Tigers may work out on the field the afternoon before.
Soccer drills can also be included in the walk-through, according to Charlebois.
Apart from having fun, the team is learning about the intricacies of a new field at the same time.
The walk-through helps the Tigers determine whether the field has natural grass or artificial turf and if it is smooth or punched with holes that could impact the movement of the ball.
“It helps us get our bearings,” Blitz said. “Every field is different.”
But doing that work doesn’t mean the process has to be mundane, and that’s where dodgeball comes in.
“It’s something competitive, something fun, something different,” Blitz said.