Story by Darren Hellwege
Photos by Andrew Wamboldt
The Missouri Tigers had their opportunities on Friday night against the Florida Gators. Threatening runs. Open shots. Close calls. But the Tigers could never capitalize on their chances. A pair of goals by Annie Speese gave Florida a 2-0 win before a crowd of 969 at Walton Stadium on a chilly, windy evening. The Gators, from the Southeastern Conference, came into the night ranked ninth in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll.
Missouri midfielder Kaysie Clark gets up after being pushed to the ground in a physical game against Florida.
The loss was just the second of the season for Mizzou, which is now 7-2 on the year. Both losses, against Florida and earlier at San Diego, came against nationally ranked teams. The Gators improved to 6-2.
“I’m proud of the way our team played,” said Tigers coach Bryan Blitz. “We lost focus for two minutes, and playing the No. 9 team in the nation, and they’re going to punish you. I thought it was an evenly played game, all the way around. I thought we had a good plan, I thought we had chances. But today, they were better, we’re fine with that, we’re not that fragile. That’s why we play a tough schedule, so we can get better.”
After a well-played first half, the two teams looked as though they would go into the locker room scoreless. However, the Florida freshman midfielder smashed a 20-foot shot from just right of the penalty spot into the back of the net to give Florida a 1-0 lead in the 43rd minute.
The Tigers had four shots in the first half. The most promising opportunity came after Danielle Nottingham slipped past the Gator goalkeeper, Taylor Burke, but with other defenders bearing down missed a golden opportunity.
“I had the wide open goal,” Nottingham said. “It’s really frustrating, because you know you can win by one or two goals. You think back like, ‘gosh, I could have done that’ but then you just have to move on.”
“I’ve been there and done that as a professional player,” Blitz said after the game. “You see million-dollar players do that all the time. But, she was in the right place in the right time, she bounced back and continued to go for it, and that’s part of it.”
The Tigers finished the night with eight shots compared to 15 for the Gators. The final blow to the Tigers finally arrived in the 85th minute, when Speese scored her second goal of the night. She put a free kick into the back of the net to give Florida its second goal of the night.
The Gators are no strangers to scoring in the final minutes of games. Earlier this season Florida’s McKenzie Barney scored a game-winning goal in the final two minutes to give the Gators a 3-2 win over Texas A&M.
The Tigers played in pink jerseys in their “Play for Pink” promotion to raise awareness of breast cancer. It’s an annual tradition for several Mizzou sports, but it has particular meaning for several Tiger players. Defender Allison Hu is one of two Tigers, whose mothers are breast cancer survivors.
“This game was important to me because my mom had breast cancer six years ago,” Hu said. “So something like this, spreading awareness and raising money I think it’s really important and such a good cause, and to play the sport I really love, it’s really fun to do.”
Her teammate Sarah Thune, also has a mother who is a breast cancer survivor, and Tiger freshman Lauren Flynn lost both her mother and grandmother to cancer.
The Tigers will return to Walton Stadium on Sunday to take on the UMKC Kangaroos. The Kangaroos are 1-4-3, having lost Friday in double overtime in Springfield to the Missouri State Lady Bears. The game will kickoff at 1 p.m. and will wrap up non-conference play for Mizzou. The Tigers start Big 12 play Sept. 23 at Texas Tech. They’ll next play at Oklahoma State before the league home opener Sept. 30 against Texas A&M.