Sarah Luebbert runs for the ball against Kentucky (copy)

Missouri forward Sarah Luebbert, right, shown here against Kentucky in September 2016, will lead the Tigers into their 2019 season opener against Southern Mississippi on Thursday in Columbia.

The first competitive outing for an MU sports team in the new academic year — the first real game, one that counts — will take place Thursday night at Walton Stadium, where Missouri soccer will host Southern Mississippi in both teams’ 2019 season opener. After scraping their way into the SEC Tournament for the second straight season in 2018, the Tigers were picked to once again finish in the 10th and final postseason spot by the league’s preseason coaches’ poll.

Missouri starts the new season with something of a revamped squad but remains anchored by both of last year’s top offensive contributors who return in 2019. Eleven of the 30 names on the roster are new to the team, but top scorer and 2018 All-SEC freshman selection Julissa Cisneros is back for her second year and will be joined in attack by senior Sarah Luebbert, an All-SEC first teamer who scored four goals last season.

Thursday will be MU’s first-ever meeting with Southern Miss, which was ranked ninth in Conference USA’s preseason poll. Missouri split its pair of preseason matches this month, falling 7-0 at No. 3 Stanford on Aug. 11 before earning a 3-1 win at Colorado State on Aug. 14. The Golden Eagles have played two exhibitions against SEC opposition in recent weeks, falling 2-1 at LSU and topping Mississippi State 1-0 on the road.

One position of concern for the Tigers entering the new year could be goalkeeper, where redshirt sophomore Peyton Bauman is likely the top choice to fill the void left by the graduation of Kelsey Dossey. Dossey, now playing professionally in Switzerland, kept last season’s low-scoring Missouri team competitive in a number of games and finished her career fourth on the program’s all-time saves list.

Senior defenders Peyton Joseph and Anna Frick are expected be the returning leaders on the back line. Both were named to the SEC preseason watch list alongside Luebbert. In midfield, English import Zoe Cross will have a chance to make an impact after missing nearly all of MU’s 2018 season due to international duty and a knee injury. After being with England’s national team for the U-20 Women’s World Cup last fall, Cross, now a redshirt sophomore, returned five games into the college season only to suffer a torn ACL in her first game back.

The Tigers will be led for the 24th consecutive season by coach Bryan Blitz, who has remained in charge since the program began in 1996. After moving to the SEC in 2012, Missouri has never missed the 10-team conference tournament, but it has only managed to secure qualification on the last day of the regular season in each of the past two years. If MU hopes to move off the SEC Tournament bubble and have any chance of reaching its first NCAA Tournament since 2016, it will need to balance increased production from the offense with continued consistency by the defense.

Kickoff between Missouri and Southern Miss is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, and the game will be streamed via SEC Network. The contest is the first of eight non-conference matches for the Tigers, with a weekend trip to Ohio State set for this Sunday. The 10-game SEC slate will run from Sept. 20 to Oct. 31, with the Tigers scheduled to face four of the five SEC teams from the preseason national top 25: No. 15 South Carolina (Oct. 4 at home), No. 17 Vanderbilt (Oct. 10 on the road), No. 10 Tennessee (Oct. 13 at home) and No. 12 Texas A&M (Oct. 27 on the road).

Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.

  • Sports reporter, fall 2019 Studying sports journalism Reach me at owen.krucoff@gmail.com, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

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