The MU women’s soccer team considers itself a family, and like any family about to embark on a road trip, the team is looking to its “big sisters” to help out.
After four years on the team, Lacey Moore and Melissa Peabody are comfortable in their roles as team leaders. Moore has been a captain since her sophomore season and leads on the defensive end of the field. Peabody is one of three seniors playing a major role in the Tiger offense.
“They’re consummate seniors,” Coach Bryan Blitz said. “If there’s an issue, they’ll take care of it. Or if they see something, because of their experience, they’ll go ahead and address it.”
With a combined total of eight years playing experience, these two women have seen a lot, including two trips to the Big 12 Tournament in San Antonio, Texas. The Tigers are there again, facing Colorado in a first-round game at 7:30 tonight.
“It is just a great time,” Moore said. “We made it past the first round on occasions and we’ve lost in the first round since I’ve been here and I just remember just having a blast and we always tell people how much fun the Big 12 is. It’s just a great team bonding experience and you play some great soccer games.”
Moore and Peabody talk animatedly about the team’s activities off the field. Moore said the players dress alike and spend a lot of time together. According to Moore and Peabody, it’s a team tradition to eat meals together in a banquet room during the tournament. The players tell embarrassing and funny stories and pay tribute to the seniors.
“Whenever we go on out of town tournaments, we always have an hour or two where we all get together and tell a funny story or an embarrassing story,” Peabody said. “Just stuff like that to bond us together and make us laugh and keep everything light-hearted.”
Peabody said that keeping things light-hearted is important to keep the underclassmen from getting too stressed out about the tournament.
“I know a lot of the younger girls some have only been here once,” Peabody said. “Some have never been to the Big 12 tournament at all. Obviously as seniors we’ve been here three times, so I think just staying positive and staying relaxed is the best thing we can do for the underclassmen to show them that, ‘We’ve been here it’s not a big deal; it’s just another game.’ We have to go out like any other game.”
While Moore and Peabody hope for more of the same fun off the field, when it comes to the game, they want to avoid a repeat of last year. The Tigers entered the tournament with a record identical to this year’s – 9-9-1 and 5-5 in the Big 12. They made an improbable run in the tournament, defeating Colorado and Nebraska, despite the fact that they started in the eighth seed. They fell to Oklahoma State 3-2 in overtime in the championship game.
“We were so close last year and we couldn’t get it done,” Peabody said. “Just having that feeling in the back of my mind and knowing, ‘Could I have done this? Could I have done that?’ We’re not going to go away with any regrets this year.”
Moore has been an integral part of a Tiger defense that has held its opponents to 1.79 goals per game. While the offense struggled to finish its opportunities mid-season, the MU defense often kept the team in the game.
“I just think that we all trust each other and we just have a great chemistry in the back,” Moore said. “From our goalie to all four of us back there and whoever comes in off the bench, I think that we just really trust each other in the back. We have great midfielders and forwards who also are not afraid to play defense and play really good defense for us which makes our job a lot easier.”
On the other end of the field, Peabody has returned to join seniors Heil and Shea Swoboda and junior Jennifer Nobis to boost MU’s offense. The Tigers have scored 12 goals in the past three games.
“Jennie and Heil and Shea and I have been together for three and four years so we know each other in and out,” Peabody said. “The freshmen who do step in…have completely gelled as well. We’re really close up top. We know exactly where each other is going to go, how each other play. We’re just really close. I know if Heil has the ball, exactly what she’s going to do, exactly where I need to be, where that ball’s going to be placed so we’re very close. I trust all my forwards.”
The Tigers are riding a winning streak into the tournament, just like last year, but Moore and Peabody agree that this year the stakes have been raised.
“I think this season is different because our expectations are higher,” Moore said. “Having seven seniors on this team who contribute on the field as well as off the field, I think that leads you to have higher expectations because we’ve all been here before and we know what we’ve accomplished in the past so we’re not satisfied just accomplishing the stuff we’ve already accomplished. We want more.”
Peabody said, “I have the utmost confidence in our team. We are at the exact point in the season where I want to be. We are coming off of a winning streak, everyone is confident. Everyone is playing well and I’m just excited. I’m really, really excited. ”