MU soccer coach well invested in team

Sunday, October 28, 2007 | 10:57 p.m. CDT; updated 6:04 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Missouri soccer coach Bryan Blitz has an office in the MU athletic building across the road from Faurot Field. Pictures of his family hang on the walls, as do a framed No. 100 Missouri soccer jersey and newspaper article from his 100th win at MU. The desk is clean, organized, functional. Sometimes he works in this office, sometimes he is on the green grass of Walton Stadium, but at both locations he works to build the program he has led since 1996.

Blitz, 44, has coached the Missouri women’s soccer team since it was started 12 years ago. There have been plenty of changes along the way. Blitz’s teams have had success, but this year’s team is approaching several milestones.

In Sunday’s win over Nebraska at Walton Stadium, Missouri (12-5 overall, 6-3 in Big 12) tied the program record for conference wins in a season. This year’s team has also set the program record for road wins with five and is closing on the Missouri record of 14 wins in a season. The regular season finale at Kansas, the Big 12 Tournament, and possibly the NCAA Tournament remain on the schedule.

It is a long journey, leading the program from nothing to one that competes for Big 12 and national titles, which has been Blitz’s goal from the start.

“Ever since we started the program we wanted to win a national championship,” Blitz said. “It takes time.”

The journey began over a decade ago. The year was 1996. The Big 8 Conference and four schools from Texas formed the Big 12 Conference.

Several of the Big 12 schools, including Missouri, were starting women’s soccer programs for the first year of Big 12 play.

Blitz, who played soccer collegiately at Tulsa, had helped start the men’s soccer program at Butler as an assistant coach and then started the school’s women’s soccer program as its head coach. Blitz said this experience starting programs may have helped him get hired as Missouri’s first women’s soccer coach.

“They recruited me like we recruit players,” Blitz said. “I was just fortunate enough they felt like I would be a good fit to start a program...I had experience with starting two Division I programs. I think that experience was obviously going to benefit me starting a brand new program here.”

In addition to building a team that would compete for a national title, Blitz set the goal of being in the NCAA Tournament by the fourth year.

“In our third year, we were on the bubble but got left out,” Blitz said. “But by the fourth year, we were in the NCAA Tournament. That was our first goal.”

However, Missouri had difficulty maintaining that success and did not make the NCAA Tournament again until 2003.

“We thought it was just going to be an easy rise there, something we’re going to continue to do, but unfortunately it wasn’t,” Blitz said. “I think at that point, those middle years, we forgot how hard it was to get (to the NCAA Tournament). Looking back now, we probably didn’t realize it took even more to continue to stay there.”

The 2003 team defeated Eastern Illinois 1-0 in the first round to pick up Missouri’s first NCAA Tournament win before losing in the second round.

This year’s Missouri team, ranked No. 15 in the Soccer America poll and No. 17 in the RPI heading into the weekend, should give the program its third NCAA Tournament appearance. Picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 in the preseason coaches poll, Missouri trails only Texas A&M in the conference standings. The Tigers’ 12 wins tie for the third most for the program. Blitz said this year’s success is “what we’ve been pushing for all along.”

Blitz has seen numerous changes during his 12 years at Missouri. He mentioned upgrades and increases in the program’s facilities, support, budget, and expectations. He has seen the Missouri soccer program grow along with Big 12 soccer. He said during the first year, Walton Stadium was just a field.

“It was just a piece of grass,” Blitz said. “We didn’t have many stands. It was very sparse and minimal. It was like that everywhere. But now you go across the Big 12 and really, in my opinion, it has the best facilities in the country.”

Fan support also is increasing for Missouri soccer. The just-completed home schedule had MU’s highest average attendence ever, 684 fans per game.

Associate head coach Amy Edwards said Blitz brings a strong work ethic to the team.

“Bryan is a tireless worker,” Edwards said. “I think that also shows in his teams. His mentality in everyday life is he’s not ever going to get outworked. I think he coaches with that mentality. He projects that to the program.”

Blitz said it is easy for him to stay motivated to put in all the work because coaching soccer is what he wants to do with his life.

“Motivation is easy,” Blitz said. “We enjoy what we’re doing...We love to teach, myself and my staff. I went back to get my MBA at Butler and then I realized, ‘Wow, I’m not going back into what I love working with, people of (college) age.’ Helping them, not just with soccer, but part of helping them sort out who they want to be in life.”

Blitz has no plans to coach elsewhere. He said MU is a destination job for him. He cited the happiness of his family in Columbia. Blitz and his wife, Alie, have four children, Madison, Oliver, Connor, and Abigail.

“I think the main thing is that it’s such a great school, such a great town, and my family is very happy here,” Blitz said. “Three of my four children were born here.”

On Sunday, Blitz coached in a suit, which he sometimes dons on the sidelines. The win over Nebraska improved his career record and Missouri’s program record to 124-111-9. After the game Blitz and his players put on a free soccer clinic for all kids at the game. He was doing what he loves, teaching soccer.

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Nate Armer October 29, 2007 | 12:00 a.m.

It's nice to see a burgeoning program stick loyally with a coach. Best wishes in the tourney (and own Kansas for me)!

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