Saying the season ended in a tie might be misleading. But for the Missouri women’s soccer team (14-7-1), that’s just how this season went.
After surging to a program-best 12-2 start, the Tigers dropped five of their last seven games, ending with a 1-1 penalty-kick loss to Illinois in an 0-3 shootout Saturday night at Walton Stadium in the first round of the NCAA playoffs.
“It’s not always the greatest way to go out, but that’s soccer,” said associate coach Todd Shulenberger, who filled in for suspended coach Bryan Blitz. “Our girls fought really hard, and we’re proud of this group of seniors. They had a great year. They showed a lot of character and a lot of heart, so we’re very proud of this team.”
Missouri started off the game strong with its defense thwarting several chances in the box. The Fighting Illini put up opportunities until the Tigers broke down. With 26 minutes left in the first half, Illinois junior midfielder Allie Osoba toed a smooth roller into the left side of the goal past redshirt sophomore goalie McKenzie Sauerwein, who dove and narrowly missed the save.
The 1-0 lead stood going into the second half for Illinois. The Tigers desperately tried to put shots on goal but only found the post. With six minutes left in the first half, senior midfielder Kelsey Mulcahy only located the crossbar.
Missouri’s luck changed briefly in the second half on a long-range shot. From at least 30 yards out, junior defender Danielle Nottingham launched a rocket that ricocheted off the right bar and landed into the back of the net.
“It was a pretty nice shot,” Illinois senior goalkeeper Steph Panozzo said. “Credit where credit is due. Good for them getting out of that habit, I guess.”
After that shot, Panozzo kept Missouri out of the back of the net the rest of the night, stopping every one of Missouri's chances. With 20 minutes left in regulation, Panozzo dove twice in a row to make two saves. In total, Panozzo had seven saves and fended off 28 Missouri shots.
The game went into two overtimes that featured several more chances for the Tigers. Senior midfielder Haley Krentz missed an open shot high during the first overtime period.
Finally, the 1-1 tie went into penalty kicks. Missouri missed all three of its shots, and Illinois scored all three of its own, advancing to the next round to take on North Carolina.
The game was eerily similar to the playoff game in 2008 in which Missouri played Illinois in that year's NCAA tournament. In that game, the two teams took a 1-1 tie into penalty kicks, and the Tigers ended up losing.
“The deja vus were over and over again (with this game),” Illinois coach Janet Rayfield said. “There were certainly a lot of similarities. I think you have two good teams here and two good programs. It was a similar fight in 2008.”
Senior defender Allison Hu said her team's penalty kick woes were because of bad luck.
“It’s sometimes a guessing game with the goalie and the kicker,” Hu said. “I think we just got unlucky up there.”
After the game, senior midfielder Jessica Greer said she noticed her team's lack of scoring at the end of the season but that the team never stopped trying.
“We were plagued with some injuries here and there, and then we got in a scoring slump,” Greer said. “It happens to every team. No one goes perfect through a season. That’s not something we were looking to do. … But I feel like we went out and gave the other team all that we could give.”