Soccer loses opener in overtime

Senior forward Ashley Hamblin streaks past Illinois senior defender Jessica Levitt during Saturday's game at Walton Stadium. The Tigers lost their season opener 2-1 in overtime.

MU's No. 25 soccer team found itself playing past 90 minutes in its season-opener against No. 17 Illinois, after ending last season with a double-overtime game to eventual national champion University of Southern California.

The result was also the same: a loss.

More than three minutes into overtime, Chichi Nweke, a freshman forward for Illinois, overcame junior defender Crystal Wagner and tucked a shot to the left of MU's goalkeeper. The score gave the Fighting Illini a 2-1 win on Saturday night at Walton Stadium.

"It just looked like we got up (the field) a little bit too much," junior goalkeeper Tasha Dittamore said. "We didn't drop in where we should have been. It's overtime. People are tired. People aren't working the way they have the other 90 minutes."

The Tigers failed to get a shot on goal in the first half, while Illinois' senior midfielder Marti Desjarlais had three all by herself. The visiting team took a 1-0 lead in the seventh minute when Nweke crossed a ball through the box to Desjarlais, who one-timed it past Dittamore.

The second half was a different story. In the 47th minute, junior forward Michelle Collins corralled the ball seven yards from the goal and shot it into the bottom left corner to even the score. MU kept the pressure on throughout the half but failed to convert several opportunities.

"We had plenty of chances to win the game in the second half," coach Bryan Blitz said. "We weren't as sharp as we should have been on the attack. But those things will come later as we move forward."

One key chance came in the 86th minute, when freshman forward Kendra Collins caught up to a ball from freshman forward Jessie Crabtree. But the Illini goalkeeper cut off Collins before she could fire a shot.

MU's system is designed to wear down the opposition in the first half, allowing MU to attack in final 45 minutes. While the Tigers had a handful of chances after halftime, they only had one shot on goal.

Dittamore saved three consecutive shots in the 80th minute, taking the last attempt off her nose. It looked like she would have to come off the field, but play continued until Wagner committed a foul to stop the game, allowing Dittamore to regroup.

Dittamore said communication must improve on the defensive end. MU is using a 3-4-3 alignment, and the defenders are getting used to new positions.

"We play a risky back (defense)," senior defender Kat Tarr said. "And with more communication, we can get in tune."

Five MU freshmen saw action, and it was clear they haven't quite adjusted to college soccer.

"In the past, they're not used to dealing with the college pressure," Blitz said. "I think that will come. I don't think you'll see some of those young players miss some of those shots, or even not take the shots, as the season goes on."

While a victory might have pushed Missouri ahead of Illinois in the rankings, MU is keeping things in perspective.

"Like we told (the players), the women's national team lost its first game, and they went on to win the gold medal," Blitz said. "So it's not how you start, it's how you finish."

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