The road to Missouri’s only soccer NCAA Tournament began in Holland. Maybe this year it will begin in Brazil.
The Tigers are leaving Saturday for a preseason trip to Brazil. The most recent time the Tigers made a similar trip was 1999, the same year MU made its tournament appearance. The tour, which the NCAA allows a team to take once every four years, will take the Tigers to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where they will play against national teams.
The trip is meant to give the team, which will play six games, more preseason playing experience, coach Bryan Blitz said.
The Tigers, who played a Black and Gold scrimmage Wednesday, have 14 returning players, including seniors Adriene Davis, Melissa McLellan, Stephanie Krawczyk and Megan Duncan.
Davis led the Big 12 with 20 points in conference games. She scored seven goals and had six assists in the nine conference games and also set a school record for most goals in consecutive games (13) in 2002.
Blitz said he is looking to Davis and the other seniors to lead the team.
Last year, the Tigers finished 11-7-2 and fourth in the Big 12 Conference at 5-4-1. MU lost to Colorado 1-0 in the first round of the conference tournament.
Seven players will join the Tigers, all of whom spent the summer working out with the team in Columbia.
Although the trip has been in the works for a year, budget cuts forced the team to rethink its plans. The team decided to have each player raise money to contribute to the team fund so the team could make the trip.
Blitz said he thinks the experience of fund-raising will be beneficial.
“With the budget cuts going on, we can’t rely on the university, and it’s rightly so,” Blitz said. “I think they will feel much better about their experience if they earned it.”
To raise money, the team held a raffle and sold tickets to everyone from aunts and uncles to high school coaches.
Junior midfielder Lacy Moore said the team refused to allow the trip to be canceled when it found out the money for the trip had been reallocated to compensate for budget cuts.
“It was almost a pride thing,” Moore said. “With budget cuts and everything we knew we really had to put out the hard work, and if we wanted to go on this trip we knew we had to raise the money ourselves. It was just something that we all wanted to do so bad. We were willing to do whatever it took to get to Brazil.”
For many players, part of doing whatever it took meant staying in Columbia during the summer and working out with a strength coach.
Every player stayed in Columbia during the summer to work on improving her fitness and strength, Blitz said.
Junior forward Missy Peabody said the summer workouts have helped the team stay in shape and has allowed it to bond.
“It makes preseason a lot easier,” Peabody said. “We are all in shape and we are all running really well. We know the freshmen before the first day of preseason so everyone gets to know everyone; it’s a lot more fluid.”
Peabody said she thinks the dedication the team has shown will pay off in the future.
“Everything in the summer is voluntary,” Peabody said. “They can’t make us be here in June and July. We probably had 80 percent of our girls here in June and the whole team was down here in July. It’s all on us, and the harder we work, we know, the further we are going to go.”
Blitz said the preseason trip will give the Tigers an advantage over other teams because MU will know early its strengths and weaknesses.
“It gives us an edge,” Blitz said. “One because they put in the time and the sacrifice in the summer, the additional benefit is that we are going to be exposed and tested at the highest level, and we’ll know exactly how good we are going to be and where we need to fix any problems that we might have.”
The Tigers open the season Aug. 29 against Iowa in Iowa City.
Duncan, a goalkeeper, said she hopes to face stiff competition while in Brazil.
“I hope some of them just destroy us so we can see what we are made of,” Duncan said.