At the end of August, as his team's season was just starting, Missouri soccer coach Bryan Blitz made clear what he wanted to change from last season.
"Last year we probably peaked too early," Blitz said on Aug. 25, two days after MU's season-opener. "We really came out of the blocks really quick, and we kind of fizzled at the end. I think this year we're trying to really learn to peak at the right time."
The Tigers learned. Really.
MU won its first Big 12 Championship on Sunday afternoon in San Antonio, beating Colorado 1-0. It was Missouri's first Big 12 Championship in any sport since 1997, when the softball team won the regular-season and tournament titles.
With the championship, MU earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. On Monday, the Tigers learned they are the No. 4 seed in their region and will host the first and second rounds. MU plays Evansville, the region's No. 13 seed, at 7 p.m. Friday at Walton Stadium.
The Tigers, the No. 3 seed in the Big 12 tournament, won three games in five days to win the conference title. Missouri defeated No. 6 Texas and No. 7 Kansas before downing No. 4 Colorado on Sunday.
Blitz had been to three conference title games with MU before Sunday, losing in 1998, 1999 and 2003.
"I think there's a lot of emotions going forth, but the main thing is I'm very happy for the program, the alumni that came before this time that laid the foundation for this to happen for this group," Blitz said.
Senior midfielder Mo Redmond scored the game's lone goal in the sixth minute. After the ball deflected off junior forward Kristin Andrighetto, it rolled out to Redmond at the top of the box, where Redmond shot it into the upper left corner of the net. The Tigers then held the lead for 84 minutes.
"Our team last year maybe would've panicked," Blitz said.
But Redmond said it was nerve-wracking trying to hold onto the lead. Junior goalkeeper Tasha Dittamore said players were diving to thwart each Colorado attack, even throwing themselves in front of the ball.
"I think the second half was long for all the coaches and all the fans," Blitz said.
The game was almost a carbon copy of the teams' regular-season meeting Oct. 3 in Columbia, when Andrighetto scored in the second minute and MU held on the rest of the way.
MU's depth has been the story all year, and the tournament was no different.
"If it wasn't for our depth, we certainly wouldn't have been in the final and also won the final," Blitz said. "I think our depth carried us through the year."
Twenty-one Tigers saw the field in the final and five of MU's six freshman combined to play 163 minutes. With MU's pressing style, Blitz substituted frequently throughout the season. But MU's depth was even more important in the hot and windy conditions and because the Tigers were playing their third game in five days, Blitz said.
Sophomore forward Alysha Bonnick, who scored twice in the tournament, was named the tournament's offensive MVP. After recording her ninth shutout of the season, Dittamore claimed defensive MVP honors. Redmond, senior defender Kat Tarr and junior midfielder Meghan Pfeiffer were named to the All-Tournament team.
The championship will have ramifications beyond this season, Redmond said.
"We have alumni calling us telling us how big this win is for Mizzou soccer," she said. "I can't explain how much this means to this program, with the recruits that are going to be coming in. We're a top program now, and we're going to be respected. We're going to be one of the top teams that people look up to."