The last time a Missouri team won a Big 12 regular season conference championship, Bill Clinton was president, Michael Jordan was winning NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls and Gary Pinkel was coming off a 7-4 season as Toledo’s coach.
That all changed Sunday when the Tigers women’s soccer team clinched the Big 12 regular season conference title with a dominating 5-0 win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Walton Stadium.
It is the first such accomplishment in program history and the first regular season conference championship the MU has seen since the softball team won the Big 12 in 1997.
“We try not to focus on those big things because that’s kind of overwhelming at times,” senior forward Michelle Collins said. “But when they come up, they present you with the opportunity before the game. ‘Don’t let them take this from you, you have the opportunity to become Big 12 conference champions,’ was what (the coaching staff) said.”
When the final whistle sounded, an excited Tiger team ran onto the field in celebration. A trophy presentation followed the game, and each player reached to touch the hoisted hardware. Athletics Director Mike Alden congratulated coach Bryan Blitz and the team.
“This was one of our goals since the beginning of the season,” junior forward Alysha Bonnick said. “We won the Big 12 Tournament last year, and this year was to actually win the (regular season) title. So, next on the list is the Big 12 Tournament.”
Missouri controlled the game for the entire 90 minutes of play. The Tigers recorded their sixth shutout of the season, and they extended their unbeaten streak to 10 games. The Tigers have shutout four of their last six opponents.
Nebraska entered the game as the Big 12’s fourth place team, and its freshman forward Morgan Marlborough entered the weekend as the nation’s leading scorer. Those stats didn’t bother the Tigers.
Nebraska scored off itself to light up the scoreboard in the first half. Less than 20 minutes into the game, Collins streaked up the sideline to catch up to a pass, flew by her defender, and made a crossing pass just before she reached the goalkeeper. The pass, intended to set up a scoring opportunity for Bonnick, ricocheted off the foot of a Cornhusker defender and into the goal to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
Neither Collins nor Bonnick were credited with any points on the play, but they would factor in later scoring. Bonnick scored two goals on the afternoon, and Collins contributed two assists. The other goal scorers for the Tigers were sophomore midfielder Candace Ruff and senior forward Kristin Andrighetto.
The Tigers played their brand of physical soccer, out-fouling the Cornhuskers 21-10. They also registered more corner kicks, shots and shots on goal than their opponents.
Marlborough was completely shut down, covered by three Missouri defenders when she found her way into the scoring area. She did have two shots on goal, but Missouri senior goalkeeper Tasha Dittamore stopped both attempts.
The excitement was still there after the festivities, but Blitz and his players already had their focus set squarely on Kansas, their final opponent of the regular season.
“We have one more game,” Blitz said. “Certainly to win the Big 12 conference with a week left, we’re proud of our kids. We want to keep this going and win at KU. It’s very important to us. (The coaching staff) told them to enjoy tonight until 12, but after that, it’s over with. We’ll have plenty of time, hopefully some time down the road, to celebrate.”
The win boosted Missouri’s record to 12-4-3 overall and 7-0-2 in conference. Blitz’s squad will head to Lawrence, Kan., on Friday for its final contest of the regular season against the Jayhawks.
A win or tie over the Jayhawks would give the Tigers an undefeated record in conference play this season. It would be another first for the Missouri program and a very rare accomplishment in a conference such as the Big 12.