When Lauren Grice began her Missouri soccer career in 2003, Tigers coach Bryan Blitz had a vague idea how Grice might help his team.
“We knew that Lauren would play here one day,” Blitz said. “We didn’t know when. We thought it might be her junior year she started to get a lot of time.”
Blitz, whose Tigers open their spring schedule at 9 a.m. Saturday in games at Walton Stadium and Faurot Field, should have known better. He had seen Grice excel for four years at Hickman.
Blitz had seen the drive that earned Grice a spot on the field as a freshman for Missouri. She played in 14 games as a defensive midfielder. And Blitz knew the drive could be turned into high gear, which it was as Grice started every game but one as a sophomore.
“We knew she could do it,” Blitz said. “But her timetable is a lot quicker than ours.”
Setting a fast timetable is nothing new for Grice. She didn’t start playing soccer until fifth grade. Within no time she was pushing coaches for extra lessons before and after practices and in the offseason.
By sixth grade, she had earned a spot in an Olympic Development Regional Camp.
By ninth grade, she was on Hickman’s varsity and by 10th grade she was an all-district honoree. She earned all-Central Region honors as a junior then an all-state award as a senior.
“Ever since she was little she’s always had that drive,” said Bunny Grice, Lauren’s mother. “She’s kind of a perfectionist. She always wants to do as well as she can.”
The desire to be a perfectionist can be harmful in sports. Between errant passes and missed shots, athletes fail as often, if not more often, than they succeed. If athletes can’t learn to handle those failures, they can self-destruct.
Grice’s coaches acknowledge she can be too hard on herself at times, but they insist she is not on the verge of destruction.
“Sometimes she’d dwell and get down and I’d tell her, ‘It happens,’” said Hickman coach Jon Strodtman, who was an assistant when Grice played for the Kewpies. “But that is what makes her so desirable as a player. She’s constantly trying to improve. Good enough is just not acceptable for her.”
Entering Grice’s junior season at Hickman, the Kewpies hadn’t reached a sectional tournament in six years. For Grice, that was not acceptable.
That season she had eight goals and 14 assists, including one in the district championship victory that sent Hickman to sectionals.
The following season, she made sure Hickman returned to sectionals, providing two assists in the district title game.
“I just never feel like I’ve done enough,” Grice said. “I always think there is more to do. I’m never satisfied.”
That attitude is something Blitz will need this season. After advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2003, Missouri slipped to 9-10-1 last season. The Tigers lose seven seniors this year, which will make matters worse.
This means Blitz will count on Grice heavily. He said he might play her at wide back in the spring, a change from her usual center back position.
Given the experience of coaching Grice the past two years, Blitz knows better than to doubt she will succeed.
“We see big things ahead for Lauren as long as she continues to use what got her there, her work ethic,” Blitz said. “Some players can sometimes rest when they get there. But I don’t see that in Lauren.”