Missouri to finish up regular season at Tennessee with SEC Tournament fate in the balance

The Tigers came up big on Senior Day for the second year in a row, but they still have work to do in order to reach the SEC Tournament.
Freshman forward Julissa Cisneros fires a bicycle kick on goal in the 21st minute of Missouri's 2-1 loss to Vanderbilt on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018. Cisneros finished the game with the lone shot.

Huddled together on the field at Walton Stadium, the Missouri soccer team erupted into celebration when it heard the news. What had seemed nearly impossible just a couple of hours prior had come to fruition.

It was Oct. 26, 2017, and Missouri had just booked its place in the SEC Tournament thanks to a confluence of three results around the conference, including the Tigers’ own senior night win over LSU.

One year after that dramatic finish, Missouri finds itself in a similar situation with one game remaining in the regular season. They won’t be taking any comfort in last year’s ending.

“No, heck no,” coach Bryan Blitz said about feeling any confidence in the wake of last season. “But have we been there? Yeah. We don’t panic, and I think that’s what we’ll take from it.”

This time around, the Tigers find themselves just inside the tournament as they travel to face Tennessee on Thursday. A vital 2-0 win over Florida on Sunday in Columbia lifted them into the conference tournament’s 10th and final spot.

With all 14 teams in action on Thursday night, Missouri could still finish anywhere between seventh and 12th in the crowded standings.

One of Mizzou’s possible paths to Orange Beach, Alabama for the tournament is a simple one. Beat Tennessee, and the Tigers are in.

The Volunteers will be no pushovers, however. Tennessee is ranked 12th in the country and will be in the comfort of its home stadium for its Senior Night. With a loss or tie, Missouri’s hopes of holding onto 10th place will depend on the two teams below them in the standings, Mississippi State and Alabama.

The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide are each two points behind Missouri in the standings. Mississippi State will host sixth-place Louisiana State on Thursday while Alabama visits ninth-place Auburn. Either one would leapfrog the Tigers with a win if Missouri loses to Tennessee.

The situation gets murky if Mizzou comes away with a tie in Tennessee. That would leave the Tigers on 11 standings points, which could conceivably tie it with up to three different teams for eighth through 11th places.

“It becomes a math equation, right?” Blitz said following Sunday’s game. “We don’t care what the name is to win the math equation, so it just becomes about us and just working hard in practice.”

One piece of history that looms over Blitz and the team this week is that Missouri has not missed a conference tournament in soccer since 2006, when it was a member of the Big 12. If the Tigers can’t take care of business on Thursday and miss the trip to Orange Beach, it would mark the team’s lowest finish as a member of the SEC.

“We don’t have to go out and play the best game that we’ve ever played, we just have to play Mizzou soccer,” junior forward Sarah Luebbert said on Sunday. “So we’re just going to go out and work for each other like we always do.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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