COLUMBIA — Members of the Missouri women's soccer team packed into the dining room at Coley’s American Bistro on Sixth Street and stared at the projector screen, awaiting their fate.
Temporary bursts of shouting and laughter filled the cramped space as players, coaches, family and media members watched the online broadcast of the NCAA Tournament selection show.
Illinois Fighting Illini (10-8-3)
vs. Missouri Tigers (14-7-0)
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Walton Stadium, Columbia
This is Missouri's first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2008.
Midfielder Jessica Greer was not laughing. She was holding hands with fellow seniors Kelsey Mulcahy and Allison Hu.
The seniors had been burned before. They were a part of the 2009 squad that won the Big 12 Conference regular season title before being shockingly shut out of the national playoffs by the tournament committee. The 2010 and 2011 seasons did not yield postseason appearances, either.
Eyes were glued to the screen as the suspense built in the room. Other teams were announced. Kentucky — a Missouri victim twice this year — was given a home game.
Then, six minutes into the show, a loud roar signified that there would be no snub in 2012. “Missouri” flashed into the blue bracket on the screen, and the seniors were silent no more.
“It was a weight lifting off my shoulders,” Greer said of the announcement, “Finally, finally, we’re in.”
“I didn’t want to believe it until I saw it,” said Hu, a second-year transfer from Saint Louis University. “It’s always been a dream of mine since I was a little kid to get a bid.”
The team received more good news, too: Their first-round contest against Illinois (10-8-3) on Saturday night will be played at home, where the Tigers (14-7-0) ended the regular season on a sour note, losing their final two home games.
Greer called the extra game at Walton Stadium an opportunity for “redemption” after a late season collapse, which included a 3-1 loss in front of friends and family on senior day.
Some of the Tigers were certain they would get a favorable tournament bid and another chance to play at home, but the seniors were hesitant to buy into the hype.
“Everyone seemed pretty confident,” Hu said. “I was scared.”
Soon after the cheers died down, the party atmosphere at Coley’s morphed into a business setting. There was now a Missouri soccer game fast approaching, and the coaches conducted a closed team meeting as the players — silent again — finished the last of their chicken wings.
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.