COLUMBIA — As the day neared its end and the Missouri soccer team’s season neared its beginning, the intensity of practice at Walton Stadium ascended to new heights. Players worked through drills and goalkeepers threw their bodies in front of shots.
“They’re definitely intense,” junior Ashley Hamblin said of the practices. “Everybody’s really competitive.”
The purpose of the intensity is to prepare the team for the regular season, which begins 7 p.m. Friday at No. 20 Illinois.
With several key players returning, Missouri will learn from last season’s lessons and experiences, coach Bryan Blitz said. In 2006, Missouri had its best start ever, going 7-0 and earning a top-10 ranking. However the young team struggled with injuries and a difficult Big 12 schedule to finish 10-9, with a 2-8 mark in Big 12 play.
“You can’t believe all the hype, being ranked 10th at such an early time,” Blitz said. “I think what it helped was that we built some resiliance.”
Blitz also talked about last year serving as a “maturation process” for his team. Hamblin said this experience has helped her as a player.
“I know more what to expect from other teams and our coaches,” Hamblin said.
Hamblin is part of an experienced junior class the team will look to for leadership.
“I think that the junior class will lead us where we’re going to go,” Blitz said. “...They’re actually the seniors for two years. Even though chronologically they’re juniors, most of them have played since they were freshmen.”
Overall, seven of the top eight point scorers from 2006 are back. Entering his 12th season as the coach of the Tigers, Blitz said this is the most athletic team he has ever had at Missouri.
Blitz said the opening matchup with Illinois will be a “measuring stick” for Missouri. He also said the team looks to be more consistent this season after the up-and-down 2006 season.
“I think we’re super talented, we just need to be more consistent,” Blitz said.
Missouri’s first home game is at 1 p.m. Sunday against Western Michigan.