Soccer ends season with loss to Illinois

The Tigers missed several chances in the closing minutes and lost on penalty kicks.
Illinois players celebrate their win as senior Mallory Forst walks off the field after having her shot blocked in the final round of a shootout Sunday at Walton Stadium. The Tigers and Illini were tied 1-1 after regulation and two overtimes, but Illinois won the second round NCAA Tournament match on penalty kicks.

After 90 minutes of regulation, two overtimes and nine penalty kicks had decided nothing, Missouri’s Mallory Forst stepped forward to try to prolong the MU soccer team's season.

Forst, the last shooter in penalty kicks, shot directly at Illinois goalkeeper Alexandra Kapicka, who saved the attempt and ended Missouri’s season, along with the college careers of Forst and five other seniors.

Illinois advanced to the NCAA Tournament's sweet 16 after beating Missouri on the Tigers' turf for the second time this season on Sunday at Walton Stadium. Illinois beat MU 4-3 in penalty kicks after the game was tied 1-1 after 110 minutes of soccer.

"She made that last save and it was just disappointing in that we're losing our senior class and that they won't be back next year," junior goalkeeper Tasha Dittamore said. "Everybody's pretty upset about it. You don't want to see anybody go, especially on something like that."

Illinois controlled the first half and took a 1-0 lead 11 minutes into the second half. The Illini's leading goal-scorer, Chichi Nweke, shot a ball that deflected off Dittamore and went into the lower left corner of the net.

After Nweke's goal, Missouri dominated. In the 74th minute, junior forward Michelle Collins back-heeled a ball to sophomore forward Alysha Bonnick, who passed it to a wide-open Mallory Stipetich. The freshman defender one-timed it to the left of Kapicka, evening the score at one apiece.

MU (16-5-2) out-shot Illinois 23-5 in the second half and overtime, and 28-11 overall. The Tigers led Illinois 12-2 in corner kicks and 12-4 in shots on goal.

Missouri had two wide-open chances to take the lead in the final three minutes of regulation. In the 87th minute, sophomore midfielder Krista Kruse corralled a rebound and was wide open in front of the goal but fired high over the crossbar.

A minute later, Bonnick, the Tigers’ leading goal-scorer, had an open look but fired wide left.

Missouri had several chances in the first overtime and nearly ended the game 20 seconds before the end of the second overtime. Junior forward Kristin Andrighetto launched a free-kick to Bonnick, who headed it just over the top right corner of the crossbar.

"We had tons of chances, they just didn't fall for us," Dittamore said.

Sunday's thriller featured enough intensity and emotion for a handful of games, and penalty kicks often don't do the game justice.

"I think anytime you let it go to PK's, it's a coin-toss," coach Bryan Blitz said. "It went our way in the Big 12 Tournament against Kansas. Today it didn't go our way. It's part of the game."

Things always seem to go down to the wire when Illinois and Missouri play. MU lost its season-opener to Illinois (12-8-2) in overtime, and Sunday's game came down to the final penalty kick. Kapicka said the pressure was on Forst.

"I decided I wasn't going to guess and I was just going to react to what happened," said Kapicka, who had 11 saves. "And she looked scared ... and she didn't hit it well, so I just reacted and things just went our way."

Forst, a goalkeeper/midfielder, did not play during regulation or overtime before attempting Missouri’s last penalty kick. She played just four minutes against Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament semifinal before converting a penalty kick.

"She did that last week," Blitz said. "She came off the bench and finished. Nine times out of 10 she'll finish that. It's just unlucky for her."

Dittamore agreed: "You can't blame anybody for missing a PK."

Had one of MU's chances during regulation and overtime found the net, the Tigers would have advanced.

"I'm sure they feel like they snuck one out of here, but that's what happens in NCAA Tournament games," Blitz said. "We've snuck games out also, so that's a part of competition."

Missouri failed in its third attempt to advance past the tournament's second round. In 2003, Kansas ousted the Tigers in the second round. Last year, MU lost to eventual champion USC. The Tigers also made the tournament in 1999, when they lost to Marquette in the first round.

But the season will still go down as the most successful in program history. On Nov. 9, Missouri won its first Big 12 Tournament title. The Tigers set records for regular season wins (13), conference wins (7) and conference points (21).

"This loss doesn't take anything away from us," senior midfielder Mo Redmond said. "I can only imagine next year what these girls are going to do."

Blitz said his team will get over the loss in time.

"Hold your heads high," Blitz said he told his players after the game. "You've won more games than any other (MU) team in history. You're the first team to bring a Big 12 Championship.

"Athletics can be cruel and can be joyous. That's part of life, and I think they understand that. I'll think they'll see that."

Redmond, who couldn't hold back tears after the game, said the loss was an unfortunate close to a successful season.

"Look at our conference — it's so hard," Redmond said. "Our conference is one of the top conferences right now. The amount of wins that we've had this season, you can't take that away from us. You can't take anything. This game is simply an ending, a sad ending."

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