Missouri soccer team stays positive despite recent struggles

Thursday, October 6, 2011 | 10:37 p.m. CDT; updated 9:28 a.m. CDT, Friday, October 7, 2011
Assistant coach Todd Shulenberger runs over a play with the Missouri soccer team during practice at Walton Stadium on Thursday. After a loss against Texas on Oct. 2, Missouri will play Southern Illinois University Edwardsville at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Walton Stadium.

COLUMBIA — It was difficult to tell the last game was a loss.

There was a lot of cheering, yelling and even laughter during the Missouri soccer team's practice Thursday morning at Walton Stadium.

The team is set to host Southern Illinois-Edwardsville at 6:30 p.m. Friday. The game could be a turning point for the Tigers, who have lost four of their past six matches, including three Big 12 Conference games.

Far from looking gloomy about seeing their chances to qualify for the postseason diminished, the Missouri players ran nonstop throughout Thursday's training session, only taking brief breaks to drink water and Gatorade.

From time to time, Missouri coach Bryan Blitz's called to his players to move from one training station to the next. Before the coach could finish, all the players were already on the move.

Thursday's practice focused on shooting, which might be an effort to overcome the team's lack of goals. Missouri has only scored two goals in its past four games.

But players seemed to enjoy the drills, laughing and cheering at each other, much like they do during games.

"Nice shot, Domi," sophomore striker Alyssa Diggs said as she applaudded sophomore midfielder Dominique Richardson, who had just put the ball in the back of the net.

Some players even challenged each other.

"You won't score this one, Diggs," redshirt freshman goalkeeper McKenzie Sauerwein said with a smile before diving to her right to stop Diggs' shot.

Diggs scored the next one, though. And then scored several more with Richardson and assistant coach Todd Shulenberger applauding Diggs' efforts.

When the atmosphere became too relaxed, you could hear Blitz's voice all over the field as he reminded his players to refocus.

"Game-like, ladies," Blitz said. "This is just another game."

Immediately, the players became silent and their smiles changed to looks of concentration.

A relief from the tension followed practice when the players came together at the center of the field in a loud huddle. They did not seem tired. Some of them had enough energy left to run back to the locker room.

Junior striker Taiwo Adeshigbin stayed a few more minutes, though.

She continued to take strike after strike at an empty goal. After six or seven shots, she gathered the balls and started all over again, barely noticing when assistant coach Danny Graville told her it was time to stop.

Blitz acknowledged his players' level of commitment and effort during this week's training sessions, especially considering their recent results.

"It's a good sign when they're staying after practice on their own," Blitz said. "They want to improve, and it is still fun for them. Sometimes you have to pull things out of some groups. But these girls are pushing it. They're driving the bus to success."

But Blitz said he thinks there is still room for fun.

"I think the players really enjoy being around each other," Blitz said. "And that's important because we are a family, and that's going to help us reach our potential."

And for the players, keeping an optimistic attitude and supporting each other flows quite naturally.

"We've been down because we started out with a really good season and then took a fall," Diggs said. "But everybody around here is really trying to focus on being positive and lifting each other up."

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