COLUMBIA — Conference play begins Friday for the Missouri women's soccer team. The Tigers travel to face Mississippi State at 7 p.m.
After starting the season 4-4, assistant coach Brian Dooley said the team is ready for Southeastern Conference competition.
"Everything matters a little bit more," Dooley said of conference games. "Our team plays with extreme intensity, and they understand the pressures of the game. What changes is that your mistakes can hurt you a little bit more."
Head coach Bryan Blitz left Wednesday's practice early and wasn't available for comment.
The Tigers are scheduled to face tough competition when it comes to SEC games this season. They are scheduled to play the 7-1 Georgia Bulldogs in late September and currently undefeated South Carolina in the middle of October. For the last game of the season, Missouri is scheduled to travel to 7-1 Arkansas.
"The SEC is one of the top three conferences when it comes to women's soccer," Dooley said. "Every game has that battling atmosphere. Everyone comes in thinking they can knock the other team off."
Although players are excited to face all of their conference opponents this season, one game in particular stands out.
"Florida," said fifth-year senior Sarah Thune." I think there's some bitterness, a bitter taste in a lot of our mouths from how the season ended last year at the SEC tournament."
The Tigers lost to the Gators in the semifinals of the SEC tournament causing many players and coaches to see them as a potential rival this year.
"They're a very technical, savvy and physical opponent," Thune said. "I'm very excited about that, especially since we're playing them at home this year."
Dooley said Florida could be one of the toughest games for the Tigers this season.
"You have to target Florida as 'the team,'" Dooley said. "I think with the number of championships they've won, I think they're the ones that have to be given that nod. We get them third game into conference play here, and if we're in a position there to compete, that'll really tell us where we stand early."
Although the Florida game is exciting to many of the players, the coaches are not overlooking the matchup against Mississippi State.
"If you look at their team with a new coach that's coming in, they're looking to impress their coach," Dooley said. "So, they're going to be excited about conference play."
Aaron Gordon is the new coach for Mississippi State this season, coming from six seasons assisting at Texas Tech and one season as the associate head coach for Texas Tech.
Dooley also said Missouri coaches are paying attention to Mississippi State senior forward Elisabeth Sullivan, who already has eight goals on the season.
"They've found somebody that's been dangerous for them," Dooley said of Sullivan. "When you have somebody scoring goals, it gives you the confidence that you can win games against anybody."
Despite this challenge, Thune said she is ready to bring her knowledge and experience into another year of SEC competition.
"I want to bring the experience I have and the leadership I have, bring that to the field and be an organizer out there," Thune said. "The more organized and the more vocal you are on the field, the other opponent gets nervous. It throws them off, and all it does is help your team out."