With Kansas down, Missouri sets sights on Washington

“I think our chemistry is great at this point,” Missouri coach Bryan Blitz said. “I think everybody is dialed in so that’s a good thing.”
Missouri Tigers senior midfielder Taylor Grant (18) in action Friday, Nov. 14, 2014 at Audrey J. Walton Stadium. Missouri beat Montana 4-3. Maneater File Photo

In an exhibition match in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in August, the Missouri soccer team took out then-No. 4 North Carolina in a 2-1 upset.

It didn’t count, but it foreshadowed a successful season.

Now, the Tigers have done it. They have reached the NCAA Tournament, beaten archrival Kansas and punched their ticket to Stanford, California, to take on Washington in the second round on Friday.

Senior goalkeeper McKenzie Sauerwein said that this matchup against the Huskies is going to be similar to preseason games in that the Tigers don’t know what to expect. She said that watching film will be key to victory.

“We’re going to need to do what we do best,” Sauerwein said. “We’ll have to go out there and play our hardest.”

The Tigers defeated the Jayhawks 3-1 on Sunday in Lawrence. Missouri coach Bryan Blitz attributes the team’s use of the width to the win.

“The one good thing is in the past, we played a smaller team (in the tournament), but I think with Kansas being such a good program, it’ll allow us to be ready for Washington,” Blitz said.

Washington, which was awarded a No. 4-seed at the beginning of the tournament, took out New Jersey’s Rider Broncs 1-0 last weekend.

Ending their regular season with a record of 13-6-2, 5-4-2 in the Pacific-12 Conference, the Huskies are a team that has seen success through a strong defense.

One of Missouri’s biggest threats will be senior midfielder Kate Bennett, who has scored six goals this season and is ranked No. 89 in the Top Drawer Soccer’s College Player Rankings.

However, Blitz said the Kansas match showed the Tigers’ spark as a team, something that will help them Friday, despite the long season.

“I think our chemistry is great at this point,” he said. “I think everybody is dialed in so that’s a good thing. It’s a long season, so who can handle the grind at the end?”

Junior midfielder Reagan Russell, who notched the Tigers’ third goal to seal the win over Kansas, said Mizzou’s backups and younger players will be crucial to the Washington matchup.

“A lot of our freshmen have stepped up,” she said. “We have a lot of depth that’s able to get goals. We’re pretty lethal from everywhere and that’s an exciting thing.”

With the Southeastern Conference being the second-best league in the NCAA behind the Pac-12 in terms of top 25 teams, Blitz said he believes his squad’s accomplishments have come from the rigor of its opponents, along with its scheduling.

Blitz also said he thinks the Kansas game was one of the team’s best of the year. However, he does not want it to be the end of the road.

“I think our kids can take some confidence,” he said, “but we’ve moved on from Kansas and now we’re onto Washington.

“I hope (Sunday’s performance) wasn’t a novelty in the first round. I think that’s the maturity that we’ll have to show to be successful on Friday.”

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