It had been a rough go at the start of SEC play for the Tigers, as they struggled to pick up any points, and until last Sunday, were tied for 12th place in the conference with only one point through five games. In a 2-0 win over Tennessee (8-5-1, 2-4-0 SEC) though, Missouri (7-6-1, 1-4-1 SEC) finally seemed to right the ship and get back on track as it looks to regain the form that saw it rip off five straight wins to start the season.
“I’ve got to credit the players to stick together,” coach Bryan Blitz said. “I mean it’s hard, but I think they’ve acquired some toughness and I think you saw that against a really good Tennessee team.”
The game saw the Tigers get goals from their star forwards, sophomore Julissa Cisneros and senior Sarah Luebbert. Both goals came fairly late in the game with Cisneros scoring hers in the 82nd minute and Luebbert adding one in the 86th minute.
Cisneros’ goal came off an assist from Luebbert who played a pass into space down the right side of the field. Cisneros beat her defender to the ball then cut it back to her left foot to open up the angle for a left-footed shot that came off the inside of the post to beat redshirt sophomore Charli Pogany.
It was Cisneros’ first goal in well over a month. After a hot start to the season that saw her score five goals in the first five games, she had run cold and struggled to get into the starting lineup.
“[Cisneros] was a freshman last year and everything went right for her and I think when you become a sophomore, there’s a sophomore slump for a reason,” Blitz said. “It’s a different game, people know who you are … Struggle is good and I think she has used it to her advantage and you saw that today.”
Luebbert’s goal was assisted by Cisneros, who played her in with a similar pass to the one Luebbert provided on Cisneros’ goal. Luebbert elected to not cut the ball back towards the center though, and instead kept the ball on her right foot and lifted a shot over a diving Pogany to seal away the win.
Luebbert has been a consistent contributor all season for Missouri with a goal or an assist in nine of its 14 games. She has been the driving force of the offense, accounting for 12 of Missouri’s 23 goals with seven goals and five assists.
For Cisneros, it was exciting to see the connection with Luebbert reemerge after her recent slump.
“It’s kind of been a progression thing, when I first got here there was the potential in both of us,” Cisneros said. “We had this desire to do better and to do more for the team and I think it’s just coming off well.”
The game showcased a much more clinical performance finishing off opportunities up front, after the Tigers had struggled to capitalize on many of the chances they were creating earlier in SEC play.
“Since the Georgia game we’ve improved,” Blitz said. “But we’ve just played some teams [where] we didn’t finish the way we did today … we told them sometimes … you’re not going to be confident doing your job, but you’re going to have to just go in and perform.”
The offense wasn’t the only area that saw noticeable improvement to their level of play as the defense also played well to keep their first shutout since the Tigers’ season opener against Southern Mississippi. Missouri also managed to hold Tennessee without a shot for all of the first half, and freshman goalkeeper McKenna Sheehan didn’t have to make a save until the 84th minute.
“That’s really difficult in the SEC to have the other team not have a shot,” Cisneros said. “It comes with experience and [the defense has] the experience, they have that leadership.”
Blitz was also very complimentary of the shift his backline and goalkeeper put in after the game.
“It’s a shutout and our defense has been taking a hammering, but they stuck in and they’ve been working hard,” Blitz said. “You have two seniors and two juniors … and really the midfield has been doing more work for them as well … I’m very happy for them.”
Even with the win over Tennessee, Missouri is still on the outside looking in for the SEC Tournament with four games remaining. Ten teams make the tournament, and the Tigers currently sit in sole possession of 12th place with four points, three behind 10th place Mississippi State who Missouri will face in its final game of the season.
Edited by Emily Leiker | email@example.com