COLUMBIA — The coach’s whistle blew, and Tyler Easley walked off the Walton Stadium soccer pitch with his teammates early on Wednesday morning.
There was no post-practice speech for Easley's team, no constructive criticism and nothing to indicate that they had just finished a scrimmage besides the sweat dripping from their faces.
Missouri (0-0) vs. Wichita State (0-0)
WHEN: 1 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Stankowski Field, University of Missouri
The attention was on another group of players across the field: the Missouri women’s soccer team.
The players on the women's team were bound by their coaches and scholarships to be there. Easley and his teammates, on the other hand, belong to the Missouri men’s club soccer team and volunteer their time to make both squads better. The club team's appearance at 6:30 a.m. was the result of a blossoming relationship between the women's and men’s teams.
“It’s for the love of the game,” Easley said, “And everyone benefits.”
Club team president Zack Godat, who played soccer for Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville before transferring to Missouri two years ago, said the scrimmages between the men and women are a great opportunity.
“We love to have this connection with the women’s team,” Godat said. “It’s good for us and great for the soccer program as whole.”
According to women’s assistant coach Shaunna Daugherty, the programs have practiced together for many years. The men's club team sharpens its technical skills and improves its fitness, while the Missouri women's team gets to face its stiffest competition of the season.
“They’re very good,” Daugherty said of the men's team. “We know that they do enjoy (scrimmaging), and we appreciate that.”
The bar is set high for both teams in 2012. The women have their eyes on the Southeastern Conference title and an NCAA tournament appearance. The men want to win the national club championship, a goal they almost accomplished last season.
In 2011, the Tiger men tore through their bracket en route to the championship game, where they narrowly lost on penalty kicks to Weber State.
Godat said the club team is focused on the “Road to Memphis,” which is the destination of this year’s title game. Their first game is at 1 p.m. Sunday against Wichita State at Stankowski Field.
“It’s national title or bust,” Godat said. “We’ve got a better team than we’ve had the past couple years.”
The women’s team is not bad either. They are 5-1 and ranked No. 10 in the country.
“This year, they’re on a whole other level,” Godat said.
Members from the men’s team are usually there bright and early every week, utilizing different tactics to prepare the women for their next game. They receive football tickets if they come to enough practices, and sometimes even get Missouri sponsored gear.
But, it’s apparent that the main incentive is playing the game they love.
“Soccer’s been in my blood for as long as I can remember,” Godat said.
It’s that mindset that could produce two championship teams this season.