COLUMBIA — The players left the soccer pitch at Walton Stadium on Monday night giggling, shouting and running around in circles.
No, the Missouri women’s soccer team had not emotionally regressed 15 years. The youthful energy came courtesy of a group of grade school boys and girls attending the Mizzou Tigers Junior Soccer Academy, which runs every Monday night at the stadium until Oct. 15.
Missouri (5-1) at Auburn (4-3)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Auburn Soccer Complex, Auburn, Ala.
For some kids, it was their first time playing with others.
“It was fun to play real soccer,” Kyla Shulenberger said.
Kyla, 6, was one of the youngest players, while Istahil Omar, 9, was one of the oldest children on the field. Istahil said her biggest challenge was going easy on the younger players.
“I was usually the littlest when I played with my bigger cousins,” Omar said. “So, it’s new for me.”
The youngsters were aided by sophomores Abi Raymer and Kaysie Clark, two of Missouri’s key starters. The Tigers players helped out with the academy immediately after finishing a competitive practice.
“I definitely had to change my mindset,” Raymer said. “We are so intense in practice, and obviously you can’t be like that with 5-, 6- and 7-year-old kids.”
They made the transition smoothly, however, sharing whatever wisdom they could while the younger athletes dribbled small soccer balls around, enjoying the warm autumn night.
Many parents watched from the stands and sidelines, including Angelique Clapper and Jessica Otterbacher.
“She couldn’t wait to come back this week,” Clapper said of her daughter Anna, “This is her first year (playing soccer).”
“We go to a lot of the Missouri soccer games,” Otterbacher, the mother of Reagan and Kaine, added, “We did the summer camp, and they told us they were doing these sessions.”
After an hour of playing, the children lined up to get autographs from Clark and Raymer behind the bleachers before heading home with their parents.
They’ll be back next week, ready to spend more time having a blast with the Tigers.