Dec. 11, 2006
The Missouri women's soccer team entered the 2006 season with a number of questions in need of answers. How fast would a team with two-thirds of its roster made up of freshmen and sophomores grow and adapt? Where would have enough offensive firepower? And finally, yet perhaps most importantly, would the injury bug hit? The answers to the first two questions were right away and absolutely. The answer to the latter question? Unfortunately.
Injuries proved to be the squad's Achilles heel all year as six different Tigers missed games throughout the season for medical reasons, diminishing an already small roster. By the middle of the year, a team that reeled off the best start in program history became preoccupied with fielding enough players.
After receiving no attention in the preseason polls, Mizzou burst into the national spotlight while in the midst of the best start in program history. The Tigers entered the Soccer America, Soccer Buzz and SoccerTimes.com's polls on Aug. 28 and made the cut by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America on Sept. 5. On Sept. 12, Mizzou made history when Soccer America ranked the squad No. 10, the first time the Tigers entered the top-10. All in all, Mizzou was ranked in the national polls a total of five weeks in 2006.
"We started off the season playing very well," said Missouri Head Coach Bryan Blitz. "The team suffered quite a few injuries as the season progressed, which definitely hurt out depth because we had a small roster to begin with. We eventually got healthier but we didn't have enough time to recover because the season was too short."
The Tigers opened 2006 in impressive fashion with two wins against Big Ten opponents to claim the Tiger Invitational Title. Mizzou started things off of Friday, Aug. 25 with a 2-0 win over Iowa thanks to goals from sophomore Ashley Hamblin and freshman Kristin Andrighetto. Hamblin scored the game-winner in the 11th minute on a penalty kick and earned an assist on Andrighetto's first collegiate goal in the 58th minute.
Two days later, the Tigers had no trouble with No. 13 Illinois in a 5-0 victory. Hamblin was the offensive star once again with goals in the 11th and 13th minutes while freshman Breanna Thornton notched her first career goals in the 48th and 77th minutes to propel the tigers to the Invitational title.
For the second-straight season, Missouri represented the Big 12 Conference well in the Big 12/Big Ten Challenge. The Tigers started the weekend with a 4-0 win over Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., on Friday, Sept. 8.
In a matchup with two unbeaten and unscored upon squads two days later, the Tigers pulled out a hard fought 1-0 victory over Minnesota. The game went back and fourth early on before Mizzou upped its offensive pressure late in the first half. Sophomore Janelle Cordia finally broke the scoreless tie in the 62nd minute when she launched a ball from outside the box. The ball sailed over the Golden Gopher goalie and just into the upper far post. The Tigers' lone goal was all the squad needed, as Mizzou's defense withstood Minnesota's late surge to post a 1-0 victory.
The Tigers extended their consecutive shutout record to five games with a 3-0 win against Northwestern State. Cordia started things right away with a goal 44 seconds in to the match to score the fastest goal in Tiger history. After a number of missed opportunities, Mizzou scored its final two goals in a span of a minute with tallies from redshirt-freshman Meghan Pfeiffer and Hamblin. The Tigers set a new single-game record with 41 shots in the game and ceded only two shots to the Lady Demons.
Against Loyola-Chicago on Sept. 10, Missouri allowed two goals to the Ramblers but the Tigers came away with a hard-fought 3-2 victory as Hamblin assisted on all three Missouri goals. Loyola's goal in the fifth minute ended a scoreless streak that spanned over five games and 454:53. During the stretch, Missouri opponents took 48 shots without finding the back of the net. Sophomore goalie Mallory Forst was credited with four of the shutouts while she combined with sophomore Jessica Lewis for the other.
A free kick goal with 19 seconds remaining in the first half by senior Elyse Nikonchuk propelled the Tigers to a 2-1 victory of host Wisconsin in the Wisconsin Invitational. The win broke the Mizzou record for consecutive wins with seven.
After rolling off seven-consecutive wins to start the year, Mizzou lost two straight to UW-Milwaukee and Nebraska. Hamblin suffered a knee injury late in the match with the Huskers that forced the team's leading scorer to miss the remainder of the season. Despite playing only nine of the 19 games, Hamblin led the squad with 15 points on five goals and five assists.
The Tigers bounced back from their consecutive loses with a 3-2 overtime victory against Illinois State on Sunday, Sept. 24. After falling behind 1-0 early in the second half, senior Elyse Nikonchuk headed in a corner kick from senior Aria Hudetz to tie the game at 1-1.
The Redbirds went on top again early in the second half but Cordia responded one minute later with her fourth goal of the year for a 2-2 game. The score held up until sophomore Mo Redmond converted a penalty kick in overtime to give Mizzou the victory.
The Tigers entered their final home weekend coming off a 3-2 loss to Oklahoma and a 2-0 defeat at the hands of No.13 Oklahoma State. The Tigers improved to 2-1 against ranked opponents with an impressive 3-0 victory over No. 25 Colorado on Friday, Oct. 13. The two squads remained scoreless until Andrighetto gave Mizzou a 1-0 advantage in the 56th minute. Senior Lauren Grice put Missouri up 2-0 on her first career goal in the 76th minute while Thornton added for the Tiger's third and final goal in the 83rd minute. Lewis earned the first shutout in her first career start and recorded four saves in the game.
The Tigers headed into their final game of the year against Iowa State playing well despite losing to No. 14 Texas 1-0 and No. 7 Texas A&M 4-2. Missouri's two goals against Texas A&M marked the most goals allowed by the Aggies in seven games and the first time in five contests the squad was scored on.
Against the Cyclones in the season finale, Wagner headed in a free kick in the 106th minute to give the Tigers a 2-1 victory and a 10-9 record.
A number of Tigers earned accolades for their efforts over the season. Hamblin posted eight points on three goals and two assists in the Tiger Invitational to propel her to SoccerTimes.com National Player of the Week and Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors. She was also named to the Soccer America and Soccer Buzz national teams of the week. Wagner became the second Tiger in as many weeks and one of only two freshmen to be named to the Soccer Buzz National Team of the Week after helping the defense to shutouts over Northwestern and Minnesota. Additionally, Andrighetto earned Big 12 Newcomer of the Week honors after notching the Tigers' game-winning goal against Wisconsin.
At the team's annual awards banquet, Nikonchuk was named the team MVP and the Strength and Conditioning Award. Thornton took home Newcomer of the Year honors while Hamblin and Malm earned Offensive and Defense players of the year, respectively. The Ultimate Teammate Award was given to Forst while Cordia and McCoy were named the Co-Most Improved accolades.
Proving the Tigers excel in the classroom as well as on the field, six Tigers earned academic honors after the season. Cordia, Lauren Grice, Meggie Malm and Lindsay McCoy earned Academic All-Big 12 first team honors while Aria Hudetz and Redmond were named to the second team. On the national level, Malm was named to the ESPN The Magazine CoSIDA All-Region 7 first team and Grice earned second team honors.
Although the season did not end how Missouri would have preferred, 2007 and beyond looks bright for Missouri. The 12 returning freshmen and sophomores all received valuable experience and look poised to bring the Tigers back into the national scene, this time to stay.
"For the majority of the season, nine of our 11 starters were freshmen and sophomores," said Blitz. "They gained valuable experience and contributed throughout the season, which bodes well for the spring and beyond. We have a great nucleus for the future."