Oct. 22, 2009

 

By Amy Farnum
NCAA.com

Missouri is in the driver’s seat of the Big 12 Conference race as it enters the final stretch, and the Tigers’ solid senior class is using its’ past experiences to stay on top of the league standings.

The group of six four-year seniors – midfielders Bree Thorton and Meghan Pfeiffer, defender Crystal Wagner, forwards Michelle Collins and Kristin Andrighetto, and goalkeeper Tasha Dittamore – are the winningest senior class in school history (.642) despite a rough start in their freshman year.  The first season they posted a 10-9 overall record, but went 2-8 in league play and did not qualify for the Big 12 tournament.

“When they were freshmen, they were very talented and played right away,” said head coach Bryan Blitz.  “They’re high achievers.  They did struggle their freshman year and I think that’s the reason they’ve been successful the last three seasons.  Sometimes, freshmen don’t play a lot right away and don’t get to experience the highs and the lows.  I think that hardened them as a group and helped them be more determined that they would continue to get better and make a difference in the future.”

As sophomores, the class turned in a 13-8-1 mark and 6-4-0 record in league play, and last year, as juniors they were 16-5-2 and 7-3-0 and won the Big 12 Tournament championship.  Currently, the Tigers are the lone remaining unbeaten team in the Big 12 standings at 5-0-2, but experience has taught them not relent during the last three games of the regular season.

“Last year, we were in the same situation and ended up losing to Texas on the Sunday and not winning the regular season,” said Blitz.  “They are a lot more determined now because of that experience of last year.  I think that matured them.  Sometimes, you learn the most from your toughest failures.”

Missouri hosts Iowa State on Oct. 23 and Nebraska on Oct. 25 before concluding the regular season at Kansas.  Iowa State and Kansas are both 2-5 in league play, but Nebraska is 3-2-2 and boasts the nation’s leading scorer in Morgan Marlborough (1.31 gpg).

“It’s kind of a scary position to be in because right now we’re the only team without a loss (in the Big 12) and that puts more pressure on these last three games,” said Wagner.  “We’re really trying to stay grounded and realize that we still have a long way to go.”

After letting the Big 12 regular season title slip away last year, the Tigers bounced back and won the league tournament. 

In 2007, one of the group’s most disappointing losses was a jumping off point.  The Tigers advanced to the NCAA Tournament before falling in the final seconds of regulation in the second round to eventual national champion USC, 1-0. 

“It gave everyone a sense of confidence about how far we could really go,” said Wagner. 

That confidence has stayed with the team, especially the senior class.

“We’ve come a long way,” said Wagner.  “It says a lot about our class being able to learn from seasons like that and figuring out what works.  So much of it is in the little things we do – that’s what makes us great.  We pay so much attention to recovery and taking care of our bodies, hopefully that gives us some kind of edge.” 

Wagner also believes that the team’s camaraderie is key element in their success.

“There is an immense feeling of closeness on this team,” said Wagner.  “I think that contributes a lot because when everyone is working for each other it makes it fun and easy to do the things required to get the win.  You feel a sense of pride when you’re playing for your team and your friends.”

As Missouri looks towards the end of the regular season, the Tigers’ approach may be a little different than in years past.

“I think we’re a little bit calmer,” said Blitz.  “We’re not as panicked and we’re more business-like.”