Julissa Cisneros took one touch, and the field opened up in front of her.
Sarah Luebbert’s pass had found the Missouri sophomore on a run near the edge of the box in the 82nd minute, and with a simple dribble, Cisneros put two Tennessee defenders out of the picture and had an open look at the far post.
Moments later, Cisneros’ eight-game scoreless streak came to an end as she found the bottom-left corner, giving MU (7-6-1, 1-4-1 SEC) the lead in what became a 2-0 win over Tennessee (8-5-1, 2-4) on Sunday at Walton Stadium.
The victory came at a critical time for the Tigers, who had gone without a win through five games of SEC play and were growing desperate to gain some ground in the conference standings. For Cisneros, who scored five goals last year and five in the first five games of this season, her goal could be the start of a much-needed offensive resurgence.
“She was a freshman last year and everything went right for her,” coach Bryan Blitz said. “There’s a sophomore slump for a reason. It’s a different game, people know who you are. I think she’s been really working hard to get back into form.”
The goal that sealed the three points came in the 86th minute, when Cisneros returned Luebbert’s favor with a through ball that the senior slotted past goalkeeper Charli Pogany. The goals were a welcome sight for the two forwards, whose productive partnership had been less effective over the past several games.
“It’s been just a progression thing,” Cisneros said of her collaboration with Luebbert. “When I first got here, there was the potential in both of us to work together… this year, [with] more time together, we both had the desire to do better and to do more for the team.”
The late offensive flourish was the exclamation point on Missouri’s first win over the Volunteers since 2015, but the first 80 minutes of the match were defined by the defenses. Missouri took just two shots in the first half, while Tennessee’s first attempt at goal did not come until the 51st minute.
“The defense has been taking a hammering,” Blitz said in reference to the team’s recent losing streak. “But they stuck in, and they’ve been working hard to get a shutout, so I’m really proud.”
Freshman goalkeeper McKenna Sheehan, who made her third straight start as Peyton Bauman remained sidelined with a virus, had little to do as the back line held Tennessee to just a single shot on target.
The win, Missouri’s first in nearly a month, moved the Tigers up to 12th in the SEC standings, three points behind the cutoff for the 10-team conference tournament. The 0-4-1 start to league play had left little room for error entering Sunday’s match.
“I think it was convincing to us that coming into this game, we’ve got to win, but don’t put pressure on ourselves,” Cisneros said. “I think we did that today. I think we definitely fought for each other.”
With four games left in the regular season, MU needs to continue picking up results in order to break into the top 10. A major opportunity to do so will present itself this week, when the Tigers visit last-placed Kentucky. Missouri will face the Wildcats at 6:30 p.m. Friday in Lexington, Kentucky.