Missouri soccer team not satisfied with early success

Thursday, August 23, 2012 | 8:21 p.m. CDT
Head Coach Bryan Blitz talks to the Missouri soccer team during practice Thursday.

COLUMBIA — The Missouri soccer team is ranked No. 13 in the nation, but forgive coach Bryan Blitz for not buying into the hype.

“We’ve been ranked early the last three years,” Blitz said, “and then, at the end of the year, we were sitting home.”

Next game

Sunday: No. 13 Missouri (2-0) takes on No. 15 California (2-0) in Berkeley, Calif., at 5 p.m. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.

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Consecutive disappointing finishes have made the Tigers hungry for postseason success. Blitz said the way to combat another late-season collapse is to focus on one game at a time and not get complacent before conference play begins.

Junior forward Alyssa Diggs knows a thing or two about early season success. This week, she was named a Primetime Performer by and SEC Player of the Week by College Sports Madness after her impressive two-goal performance against then-No. 11 Memphis on Aug. 17.

Diggs — who is nursing a recent hamstring injury — appreciates the praise, but she is already on to the next phase of the season.

“That was yesterday’s excitement,” Diggs said. “Right now I’m trying to focus on getting my hamstring better and thinking about the SEC (games) coming up.”

It’s already been an impressive junior season for Diggs. Coming into the season, she had only six goals to her name, but she has already scored three times through just two games. Unfortunately, her bum hamstring—which was tweaked during a 2-0 win over UC Santa Barbara on Sunday—will keep her out until the Auburn game on Sept. 14.

Blitz is not deterred, however. Strong leadership from his five seniors, as well as a promising freshman class, has the coach confident in his squad. Defender Candace Johnson, in particular, has had a good start. Johnson was recently named SEC Freshman of the Week by the conference.

“I think all the freshmen had a really good weekend,” Blitz said. “The challenge for them is to (play well) consistently.”

Blitz finds it laughable that the No. 13 ranking should be taken seriously, citing a 4-0 exhibition loss against Southern Methodist on Aug. 11.

“It’s great that we’ve bounced back in a strong way, but let’s pump the brakes here," Blitz said.

His Tigers will attempt to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.

For now, his eyes are on a matchup this Sunday against No. 15 California.

“We purposely scheduled Cal away from home, and we know they’re going to give us everything we can handle,” Blitz said. “Maybe two months from now, our goal is to be in the rankings, but really, we want to be in the NCAA tournament and SEC title contention.”

Sunday's match will serve as an indication as to how close the Tigers are to their goals.

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