Mizzou women’s soccer looks to start SEC play strong

Kaitlyn Clark: “As a team we just work together, we get in everyone’s heads.”
After battling Colorado freshman Camilla Shymka to the ground, Melanie Donaldson regains control of the ball around midfield. Maneater File Photo

Beginning the season with five straight home games gave the Missouri women’s soccer team irreplaceable experience in the safe confines of Audrey J. Walton Soccer Stadium. The Tigers went 4-1, enduring three grueling overtime games and out-shooting opponents in all five. This left much optimism for Mizzou heading into its first away game versus No. 23 Notre Dame.

This game proved to be a true anomaly. The Fighting Irish were the only team to out-shoot and truly hold Mizzou back offensively. Most notably, it was the first time the Tigers have been shut out since Sept. 20, 2015.

Falling 1-0 to the Fighting Irish proved to only be a minor setback as the tough beginning of the season was building up to one thing: the Tigers’ Southeastern Conference season opener against Mississippi on Friday.

“I think we are progressing each week in practice,” coach Bryan Blitz said. “We have to able to limit [opponents’] chances defensively… we can’t keep letting teams back in and getting momentum … So we have to learn how to kill off teams.”

Offensively, the Tigers are always pushing the pace and attacking to do exactly what Blitz described. In the SEC, Mizzou is tied with Ole Miss for second in overall shots at 120.

However, all the shots have not translated into Mizzou being near the top of the SEC in goals scored — Missouri is currently sixth in the conference.

“Definitely score more, obviously that’s our goal,” senior Melanie Donaldson said. “It’s going to take practice, we are just trying to see what is working right now.”

Players are optimistic going into conference play.

“I think we will do really well in the SEC, we get an average of 23 shots a game,” junior Savannah Trujillo said. “So that will take us really far in the SEC because we are getting the opportunities; and as we progress we are going to get better and better at finishing those opportunities.”

Leading Mizzou in shots and goals is freshman Sarah Luebbert. Luebbert is seventh in the SEC in shots, with 23. She is also tied for fifth with four goals on the year.

“I always tell myself don’t think, just play,” Luebbert said. “Because I don’t want people to overthink everything.”

For Luebbert, who came from Jefferson City High School, it was always about the black and gold.

“It’s a dream come true,” she said. “I love coming over after the games and meeting other little girls who play soccer from Jefferson City because I can relate to them.”

Luebbert made one major decision that has led to great success this year: coming to Mizzou a semester early, giving her a leg up on almost every other freshman.

“That’s the only reason why I have the confidence that I have, why I know the players better,” Luebbert said. “It just gave me the confidence and skill to play at this high of a level.”

To cap off a start that couldn’t be scripted any better, Luebbert was named SEC Freshman of the Week.

Defensively, Mizzou has been pretty tough, despite late-game mistakes at home.

“As a team we just work together, we get in everyone’s heads,” junior Kaitlyn Clark said. “Everyone has the same mindset that we all need to work together and high press.”

This emphasis to being the aggressor clearly shows through Mizzou’s play. From Mizzou’s control of possession, to its prevalent use of slide tackles all over the field, it is clear how physically the Tigers play on defense.

With five of the nine goals given up this year coming in the second half or later, the major key for Mizzou in SEC play is avoiding second-half mistakes. All these mistakes served as building blocks before SEC play began.

“We’ve learned our lesson after Iowa,” Blitz said, referring to a 2-1 overtime loss on Aug. 21. “We need to practice harder.”

Mizzou looks to build on last year’s SEC record of 7-2-2 and avenge an early SEC Tournament loss to LSU. In sharp contrast to the start of Mizzou’s nonconference schedule, the Tigers begin conference play with away games at Ole Miss and Tennessee. Mizzou beat both teams last year.

The Tigers kick off against the Rebels at 7 p.m. Friday. The game will be televised on SEC Network Plus.

Edited by Peter Baugh | pbaugh@themaneater.com

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