It’s 8:30 on a Tuesday morning. Do you know where you are?
For Missouri freshman soccer players Mallory Ames, Lauren Grice, Melissa Griggs and sophomore Kira Reyes, the answer is different from most.
Having finished their 90-minute morning practice, they are ready to continue their hectic day as student-athletes.
“It’s all about time management,” Griggs said. “It’s knowing that the free time you do have will be spent on homework.”
Said Grice: “We’re getting up at 5:30 a.m., which means we have to go to bed earlier, which means we have to get our homework done during the day.
“Now, me ... I usually procrastinate.”
The players signed on to this brutal schedule in February when they signed letters of intent. Ames, Grice and Griggs have played together since they were 12; they played for the J.B. Marine club team in St. Louis and then at Hickman High.
Reyes, a Missouri Class 4A Goalkeeper of the Year, went to the U.S. Air Force Academy after graduating from Rock Bridge High in 2001.
“I didn’t really enjoy the soccer experience (at Air Force),” Reyes said. “I talked to Mikki Denney (Wright, an MU assistant coach), and they needed another goalie. I made the decision and I love it here.”
Although these players did not undergo dramatic geographical changes, they say the switch from high school to college soccer is dramatic enough.
“The amount of work that the entire team puts in has definitely increased,” Grice said. “The entire team is there to get better and push each other.”
Ames said the determination of the players is the biggest change.
“In high school, you’d have a couple of players that really wanted to go far,” Ames said. “Here, it’s like everyone’s on the same level and they all want to go the same place.”
It’s not only on the soccer field that the team is on the same level. After a preseason trip to Brazil and a month of training together, the players say the team has bonded.
“Coaches go out and recruit for skill,” Reyes said. “But sometimes you get lucky, like with this combination of girls on the team, where everything mixes well and we don’t have problems.”
Said Grice: “We’re all really close and we’re all there to make each other better. We push each other on and off the field to get things done, be a better player and a better person.”
Coach Bryan Blitz said he can see the contributions the Columbia freshmen bring to the Tigers (5-3).
“The thing with young freshmen is that they bring enthusiasm,” Blitz said, “They’re going to get better, become more skillful, more sophisticated, but if they don’t have that piece of enthusiasm, that heart . . . it’s just a great quality.”
Grice has been called upon the most so far, playing in each of the Tigers’ eight games and getting an assist in a 2-0 win against Northwestern.
“Lauren’s supercompetitive and I love that about her,” Blitz said. “You can do so much with that quality. Her future is in front of her.”
Griggs has been recovering from a sprained ankle, and Ames has decided to redshirt.
Reyes, although not redshirting, has formidable obstacles in front of her in senior goalkeepers Megan Duncan and Stephanie Krawczyk.
“Kira knows she’s here to be a team player at this point because of the seniors,” Blitz said. “She pushes them to make them better; what an unselfish quality.”
Said Reyes: “I realize I’m not the best person in goal right now. I just want to learn as much as I can because when spring season comes along, I’ll be the only one out there, and I want to make sure that my team has confidence in me.”
Blitz said he’s happy the players decided to come to MU.
“We know these kids pretty well because they’ve come to our camps,” Blitz said. “They know what’s expected here and wanted to go through our tough program.
“It’s almost a perfect fit.”