Soccer to play Evansville in first-round game

The Tigers hope to avoid a letdown after their first conference title.
Sophomore forward Alysha Bonnick, who leads the Tigers in scoring with 25 points, was named offensive MVP in the Big 12 Tournament last week. The Tigers will depend on Bonnick's presence when they play Evansville, ranked 17th in the nation in scoring, today at Walton Stadium in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

Before returning to practice Wednesday after winning its first Big 12 Championship in program history, Missouri's women's soccer team made a creed for the NCAA Tournament.

Each player's name was written on a poster, along with words the team values, such as sacrifice, dedication and work ethic. Then they signed the creed.

"Instead of pricking our fingers and using blood, we used red ink and we signed our thumbs," senior defender Kat Tarr said. "Even our coaches did it."

Tarr said the team hasn't made a creed in years past, but it's fitting for a season that's been unlike any other.

"I think for the first time this year, every single player believes that we can go all the way," Tarr said.

MU's quest for a national title begins at 7 p.m. today against Evansville at Walton Stadium. The Tigers (15-5-1) are the No. 4 seed in their region of the 64-team tournament and are ranked No. 13 nationally. Evansville, the Missouri Valley Conference champion, is the region's No. 13 seed.

Coach Bryan Blitz said Missouri held lighter practices this week to recover from the Big 12 tournament, where it played three games in five days.

"We're still very intense," Blitz said. "It might be shortened time-wise, but as far as intensity, we compete."

Like last season, MU is hosting the first and second rounds of the tournament, and the players are glad they don't have to travel, Tarr said.

Last year, Missouri beat Southeast Missouri State in penalty kicks but lost to eventual National Champion USC 1-0 in double overtime in the second round.

Blitz said his team is mature enough to prepare the right way, and the Tigers know they have to put the Big 12 title behind them.

"I think our biggest challenge is to make sure that we move forward, have no emotional hangover," Blitz said. "We know that there are other things out there. That was only one of our goals."

Blitz said the Tigers are as healthy as they've been all season and that he has everyone at his disposal for tonight's game.

Evansville (13-4-2) might be best known for its nickname: the Purple Aces. But Missouri isn't taking them lightly.

"Anybody who's here at this point is good," Blitz said.

Blitz said Missouri acquired scouting reports from four or five teams that played Evansville this season. He said Evansville, which qualified for the tournament for the first time in seven years, is a veteran team. The Purple Aces started six seniors in their conference title game.

Evansville, located in southwestern Indiana, ranks No. 17 in the nation with 2.37 goals per game, while Missouri is 24th. The Purple Aces have scored twice as many goals in the first half of games as in the second half, while MU has scored more after halftime. Like MU, Evansville has committed far more fouls than its opponents.

"They won their conference - they can't be that bad," said junior midfielder Meghan Pfeiffer, who played club soccer with two of Evansville's players. "They're probably really scrappy. I hear they have a couple fast forwards."

Those forwards are seniors Kayla Lambert and Mia Tofano, who lead Evansville with 14 and 12 goals, respectively. Lambert was the conference player of the year and MVP of the conference tournament.

All season long, the Tigers have won by pressing their opponents and creating turnovers, substituting frequently to keep everyone fresh. And their approach won't be different tonight.

"It'll either work or it's not going to work," Blitz said. "We stay true to who we are."

Playing in the NCAA Tournament, though, is different from playing in the regular season.

"You always have to have a little bit of luck," Blitz said. "You certainly have to be prepared. I think you have to value every single moment because it's one-and-done. ... There's a little more sense of urgency in the tournament."

If Missouri wins tonight, it will play Memphis or Illinois in the second round at 1 p.m. Sunday at Walton Stadium. Memphis and Illinois play today at 4 p.m.

 

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