It was an underwhelming end to the season for Missouri (7-10-1, 1-8-1 SEC) who fell 4-2 in its final game against Mississippi State (8-7-3, 3-4-3 SEC). However, the game felt like a secondary storyline on a night when Missouri was saying goodbye to a decorated quintet of seniors.
Seniors Izzy Coulter, Anna Frick, Peyton Joseph and Sarah Luebbert, and redshirt senior Madison Lewis all closed out careers that spanned a 32-40-6 record over the past four years. This senior class also contains the last players to play in the NCAA Tournament in the program after reaching the postseason in 2016.
Frick and Joseph have been a rock-solid defensive pairing for all four years of their careers, combining for 135 starts. Luebbert has been one of the best forwards in program history with her 79 career points, 29 goals and 21 assists all ranking among the top eight figures of all time. Additionally, Lewis has been a consistent producer in the midfield after redshirting her freshman season with 25 career points, 10 goals and five assists. Coulter received the least game time out of the five seniors throughout her career with her 77 minutes Thursday night surpassing her career total of 50 minutes heading into the game. Coulter was also named to the SEC Community Service Team this season for her work in local elementary schools.
“All head coaches, they love senior night, and they really don’t like senior night,” coach Bryan Blitz said. “I couldn’t be prouder of the seniors that all came in, that all played a part … That senior class is going to be hard to replace.”
For Luebbert, all of the personal accolades are just a minor footnote compared to everything else she got to experience on the team.
“It’s nice, but for me, it’s not about all of the points or goals or assists,” Luebbert said. “Just being able to play soccer with these amazing girls that I love … I have so many good friends on the team and I made best friends on the team that I know I’m going to be with … for the rest of my life.”
As for the actual game, the Tigers knew their 5-3 loss to Texas A&M on Oct. 27 meant they wouldn’t be able to make the SEC Tournament, slightly altering their approach on Oct 31.
“We just said, when you’re a ten-year-old kid you don’t come out thinking about trophies you come out and you just compete and be your pure self,” Blitz said. “Let’s just be honorable at practice Tuesday and Wednesday and be noble and compete.”
It took a while for the Tigers to wake up and compete, as they barely managed to keep the Bulldogs from scoring during a few wild minutes at the start of the game.
Mississippi State would eventually find a breakthrough in the 8th minute when Miranda Carrasco swung in a corner towards the near post, and MaKayla Waldner rose from a scrum of bodies to nod a glancing header home.
The Bulldogs would then double their advantage 13 minutes later when Hailey Farrington-Bentil swung in a cross from the right flank which found the head of Onyi Echegini. Her initial header came back off the post, and Echegini was the first to react to the bounce volleying home a follow-up shot from point-blank range.
The dynamic duo of sophomore Julissa Cisneros and Luebbert would link up for one final time to pull a goal back just a couple of minutes later.
The one-goal deficit didn’t stand for long though as Mississippi State would find a third goal just before half time to reclaim their two-goal advantage. Olivia Hernandez delivered a cross for Monigo Karnley who calmly finished with a well-placed shot.
After their sluggish start to the game the Tigers played much more inspired soccer in the second half seizing more opportunities, and other than a slip up at the start of the half, they generally controlled the flow of the game.
“We weren’t going to lay down and let anybody walk all over us,” Blitz said. “I think we regrouped at halftime and we showed that in the second half for sure.”
Mississippi State would tally a fourth goal just four minutes into the half with Farrington-Bentil taking advantage of a fortunate bounce during a wild sequence in front of the Missouri net to get her third goal of the season.
Missouri would come close to getting a second goal throughout the half with a long-range effort from Lewis barely missing the frame of the goal in the 50th minute, and Joseph hitting the crossbar in the 68th minute, but it wouldn’t be until the 82nd minute that they would finally get another goal.
A cross from freshman Janna Singleton would find the feet of Cisneros who would score to give her two goals on the night and eleven on the season. The assist is the first of Singleton’s career, while Cisneros’ brace means she is the first player to score at least 10 goals in a season since Luebbert did in 2016.
“I think the second half was our best performance, we had multiple opportunities, we scored a goal at the end, so they kept up the fight,” Blitz said. “With all of the things they have gone through … they could have easily quit, and there’s been no quit the whole season.”
Blitz, who just wrapped up his 24th year in charge and has been the head coach of the program since its creation, understands the importance of patience and self-evaluation, and he says he will take the necessary time to figure out a direction for next season.
“I think we need a little bit of time to step away and see where the issues came from and we have to get those corrected,” Blitz said. “We had some unusual things happen, but you are what your record says you are … there will be a lot of reevaluation all the way through because just [four] years ago we finished second in the SEC … there will definitely be looking in the mirror.”
Edited by Emily Leiker | email@example.com