COLUMBIA — Friday's game marked the beginning of the end of a wonderful journey.
It was a journey of positive memories but also some tough lessons. They have been at the top, and they have also hit the bottom. And they have been together through it all.
Missouri lost 1-0 to the Iowa State Cyclones on their last game of Big 12 regular season. Missouri's overall record dropped to 12-7, and their conference record is 3-5.
The Tigers finished the Big 12 regular season in sixth place, which guarantees them a spot in the conference championship. They will face Baylor at 2 p.m. Tuesday in San Antonio, Texas.
Missouri appeared out of focus during the first half against Iowa State. They lost a lot of balls and did not create enough clear scoring opportunities.
In the second half, the Tigers improved their concentration and dominated possession but were still unable to convert the few scoring chances they had.
Iowa State converted the game's only goal in the 61st minute.
In an emotional ceremony before Friday's game against the Iowa State Cyclones, the Missouri soccer team honored senior players Kelsey Blincow, Kendra Collins and Mallory Stipetich for their contributions to the team.
A few minutes before kickoff at Walton Stadium, all the Missouri players and coaching staff gathered on the sideline. Then, one by one, the names of the three seniors were announced, and the stadium screen showed videos of other Missouri players recounting funny anecdotes about the seniors.
Then Blincow, Collins and Stipetich walked to the center of the field where family and friends gave them flowers and balloons. The three seniors smiled and hugged their parents and friends. The small crowd at Walton Stadium cheered.
Then, it was time to get going again. Blincow, Collins and Stipetich all started the game for the Tigers.
They knew it was their last chance to show their leadership skills in front of their home crowd, much like they have throughout the year.
Coach Bryan Blitz recognized Blincow, Collins and Stipetich's impact on the team during their senior year.
"Their leadership has been fantastic," Blitz said. "It's actually funny to see how they have bonded because they all come from different places and are all diverse."
Actually, the senior players' diversity has become one of the team's assets this year.
"They (the seniors) have been able to dig deep and collaborate amongst themselves and also with the coaching staff," Blitz said. "Their diversity gives our group an opportunity to hear our point of view three different ways. They have helped everybody stay on the same path."
Stepping up and taking responsibility for their team's leadership is one of the things that has made Blincow, Collins and Stipetich's last year in Missouri soccer special.
"Being a senior is kind of a different world," Collins said. "You hear more, and you understand more. You also have to be aware of everything you do because there are freshmen who you know are looking up to you."
And they get a lot of enjoyment from helping their teammates improve.
"You have to learn not to just worry about yourself," Blincow said. "We try to stress the family part of our team. We try to look out for everyone and make sure that everyone is getting better."
In their four years as members of the Missouri soccer team, Blincow, Collins and Stipetich have shared in some major achievements. They won back-to-back Big 12 championships in 2008 and 2009.
"Winning those two championships was pretty cool," Stipetich said. "Especially because it was in our freshman and sophomore years."
But the three seniors have also been through some difficult moments together. Despite winning the Big 12 regular season in 2009, the Tigers did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament that year.
"I think we still have a really bitter taste in our mouths from two years ago," Collins said. "It was definitely tough."
And in 2010, the Tigers lost in the first round of the Big 12 postseason, their worst performance in five years.
"Their junior year was painful," Blitz said of his three seniors. "But I think it has allowed them to be great leaders because they stopped taking things for granted. It was a great growing experience for them, and they really took advantage of it, and it's paying off for them now."
Blincow, Collins and Stipetich believe their soccer experience at Missouri has helped them grow as athletes and as individuals.
"Playing soccer at Mizzou has taught us that you can't take anything for granted," Stipetich said. "You have to earn it and live with it."
They also gained friendships. The three seniors are close friends and care for each other a great deal. The chemistry between the three of them is obvious. They finish each others' sentences and seem to share the same sense of humor.
"Somehow, all our personalities just match," said Collins. "We spend a lot of time together and enjoy being around each other."
"I'm sure we'll be at each others' weddings," said Blincow, bursting into laughter along with her two friends. "Somehow, we don't get tired of each other."
They are not sure of what they want to do after they graduate from MU, but they said they still have time to figure it out.
Blitz is sure that whatever they do, they will be successful.
"I'm so excited to see where they will end up," Blitz said. "I think they will make a really positive impact on the world. And that makes me the proudest of all."
Carolyn Collins, Kendra Collins' mother, was at the stadium to watch her daughter's last home game as a Tiger.
"This is all so emotional" Carolyn Collins said during Friday's game, a big smile on her face. "It's the end of an era for us. But we are so happy to see that Kendra made such a great decision to come and play for Mizzou. We are really proud of her accomplishments and of the fine young lady she is today."
After an eventful four years playing for Missouri, senior year has gone by fast.
"It all flew by so fast," Kendra Collins said, smiling and staring at the horizon. "I think I'd pay a billion dollars to do it all over again."