COLUMBIA — You might know Missouri soccer’s No. 13 as Sarah Thune, but to her teammates she’s “Grandma” and, sometimes, “Great Aunt Sarah.”
Thune's teammates gave her these nicknames because of her long tenure with the team as well as the adversity she has faced during her college career. The senior defender's experiences have also helped her develop into a leader on the field this season.
“It (the nicknames) just kind of came about,” Thune said. “It’s something we laugh about, but I think, also, you know, grandmas are wise — they’ve gone through a lot. They know a lot more and can help guide you."
“I have experience, and I want to help the younger girls learn and know what they have ahead of them,” Thune added.
One of those younger players, sophomore defender Candace Johnson, has been influenced by Thune’s vocal style of play. Johnson, who splits time with Thune at the center back position for the Tigers, said the most important thing she’s learned from her defensive partner is “how to communicate.”
“Having to step into a more leadership role this year, Thune definitely helped me talk louder and talk more, and be more confident,” Johnson said. “You can hear her (Thune) at any point of the game, in the locker room, before or after the game, and in meetings.”
While Thune has always been vocal on the field, she said that an extended period off the field reignited her passion for the game and inspired her to be a leader.
After spraining her MCL during her redshirt freshman season at Missouri in 2010, Thune re-tore her ACL (it was previously torn during her junior season in high school) the next year.
“Those are words you never want to hear twice,” Thune said. “You never really understand or appreciate what you have until you don’t have it anymore.”
Though the injury was hard on her, Thune grew as a player through her recovery.
“When I had to sit out and watch on the sideline, it was a struggle but it was a learning experience because you see things from a different perspective," Thune said. "You then will be able to apply them when you get back, so you can just lead in other aspects of your game.”
“I feel like I grew as a leader with how I came back from my surgery and also verbally helping organize the team even when I’m not on the field,” Thune added.
Thune's maturity has come as an important boost during Missouri’s 11 games this season, and her younger teammates will continue to hear “Grandma’s” wisdom loud and clear before her graduation this December.
“You always know when Sarah Thune’s around, and it’s a great thing,” Johnson said.
“It’s gonna be hard when she’s not here.”