In the world of club sports, $800 is a fortune.
For the MU soccer club, whose budget hovers somewhere around $4,000, raising that type of cash would take some form of divine intervention. Or at least a phenomenal bake sale.
So this weekend, when the team traveled to Stillwater, Okla., for the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association’s Region IV tournament, the award for first place — a paid $775 bid to the NIRSA national championships in Tempe, Ariz. — teased the players like one of those flying stuffed rabbits on the rail at the greyhound track.
The club capitalized on the chance to make a huge deposit into the team bank account, scoring 10 goals in five straight wins to claim its second consecutive Region IV championship.
Team president Kurt Austin said that while the team was playing mostly for pride, the prize was a major bonus for the club’s finances.
“When you’re a club team, you take every penny you can get,” he said.
Speaking of bonuses, the Tigers got a rare opportunity to face the University of Kansas’ club squad, beating the Jayhawks 3-1 in group play. Club founder and Rock Bridge graduate Brandon Butcher said the team was itching for the chance to pluck a few feathers.
“I’m not going to say I’ve been waiting my whole life to play Kansas,” he said. “But when you get that opportunity, it’s really cool to play against them at a competitive level.”
“MU-KU just brings up a whole other level of intensity,” he said. “It’s the most intense atmosphere we play in all year.”
In the two and a half years since its inception, the club has offered soccer players at MU the opportunity to compete for their school against teams from around the country. Austin said the team’s success is indicative of the untapped talent at the university.
“I think it says something about the obvious potential the school has for a men’s varsity team,” he said. No school in the Big 12 Conference has an NCAA-sanctioned men’s soccer team.
The club has made good use of that potential, and Butcher said improved organization and a more serious tone at practice have made this team a serious threat at the national championship tournament.
“If it were just a hobby for these guys, we wouldn’t be this successful,” he said.
The club is clearly Butcher’s baby, but the MU senior said learning to divide responsibilities between himself, Austin and others has made for a more committed team.
“I learned the importance of allowing other people to take ownership (of the team),” he said. “There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that’s necessary. That’s the most important thing that’s happened this year, to have a group of guys that are willing to make that commitment.”
Austin said this group of guys will head to Arizona next month intent on improving on last year’s performance, when the team lost to eventual champion Colorado in the round of 16.
“Last year, we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into,” he said. “We’re not going to be intimidated this year.”