COLUMBIA — Her eyes are fixed on the ball, and she is holding her mouth in a frown. Her steps are confident, and she shows no signs of being tired. Her presence on the field is strong. So are her words to her teammates.
"Push forward," she said. "Don't let her through. You got her."
The Missouri women's soccer team is set to take part in the Sun Devil Desert Classic, in Tempe, Ariz. The Tigers are looking to build on a five-game winning streak.
Missouri (5-1-0) will play the University of Arizona Wildcats (0-4-0) Friday at 4 p.m. They will then face the Arizona State Sun Devils (2-2-0) Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
The team's optimistic in its current streak, but the coaches and the players acknowledge the difficulty of playing back-to-back road games.
"Our players are ready for the challenge, and they have had two days of good practice this week," coach Bryan Blitz said. "But we are going to play two very hungry teams, and their records don't really show how good they are. It's going to be a true test."
The Tigers' positive start to the season has led the players to feel optimistic about the future.
"I think we have special players on the team right now," sophomore Dominique Richardson said. "We are really coming together as a group. We need to keep it up because we are doing awesome."
"We are flowing really well," sophomore striker Alyssa Diggs added. "I'm excited for conference games. Big things are going to happen."
It's hard to believe all the shouting does not come from the coaches. It's also hard to believe that the player making all the noise was laughing and making jokes with her teammates just moments ago. No tension, no stress. Just youthful humor and joy.
But that's exactly the transformation Missouri soccer player Dominique Richardson goes through every time she steps onto the field.
A sophomore defensive midfielder from Fullerton, Calif., Richardson shows natural in-game leadership that has earned her the respect of her teammates and coaches. But she also displays a much more easy-going personality off the field.
A promising talent from her high school years, Richardson proved her skills in her first year of college soccer. She started all 19 games, scored three goals and ranked among Top Drawer Soccer's Top-100 College Freshmen in the country.
This year, Richardson made the preseason All-Big 12 Team. Her performances have earned national recognition by coaches and specialized websites such as CollegeSoccer360 and Soccer America. Richardson has also played for the U-20 United States women's national team on several occasions, most recently in June 2011.
But it's Richardson's character that defines her as a soccer player.
Watching Richardson play a game is no different from watching her practice: same motivation, same energy level, same confidence. As soon as she steps onto the field, she focuses on nothing else.
She says her motto on the field is simple: fight for every ball, tackle hard, make precise passes and stay close to her teammates.
Richardson likes to be around her teammates, constantly talking to them and giving them support. As she moves back and forth on the field, fighting fiercely for every ball, she remains aware of where her teammates are and shouts key instructions at them when she has to.
"It's just the attitude that you have to have," Richardson said. "I always try not to leave my teammates by themselves."
Richardson's teammates seem to feel comfortable with her attitude on the field. They follow her instructions and look for her when they have the ball.
Coach Bryan Blitz sees Richardson's attitude on and off the field as an asset.
"We ask her to do the behind-the-scenes work," Blitz said. "She has really embraced that role, especially with the young group around her. They see her work ethic and that inspires them. She makes players around her better."
Richardson's teammates also appreciate her commitment to the team.
"We can always count on Domi to go in hard in practice," sophomore striker Alyssa Diggs said. "She is always talking to the players. On the field, she is just serious about what she does. She is a hard worker."
Richardson's passion for the sport is as natural as her talent.
"I feel like it's natural for me," Richardson said. "When I'm out there, playing, it's like 'This is what I'm supposed to be doing.'"
But that is just one side of her.
Richardson is a sociable, upbeat 18-year-old who is positive about the future. Off the field, she displays a more relaxed attitude. She has a constant smile on her face around her friends. When she is on the bench — which doesn't happen often — she makes jokes with her teammates and cheers them up when needed.
"She is a very laid-back person," Diggs said. "She always makes people laugh. Everybody loves Domi."
Richardson has been playing soccer since she was 4 years old. She has always counted on her family as her main source for help and love.
"Their support is huge," Richardson said with a big smile. "I miss them and call them every day."
Richardson has not yet decided what to major in at MU, but she would like to try something that keeps her close to soccer.
She seems to be clear as to what she would like to do after she gets her degree, though.
"If I can still be playing soccer in 10 years, that would be great," Richardson said. "I definitely want to play after college, wherever I can.
"And I also want to go back with the U-20 national team for the 2012 World Cup," she added. "I want to see where that takes me."