At the end of a season marked by shortcomings and difficulties, Missouri soccer hit rock bottom.
The Tigers entered Thursday night’s season finale with the knowledge that they would miss the SEC Tournament for the first time. But they still had a chance to send their seniors off with a positive result and spoil Mississippi State’s own postseason hopes. Instead, MU came out flat in a 4-2 defeat, condemning itself to a last-place finish in the SEC.
Missouri (7-10-1, 1-8-1) bid farewell to five outgoing seniors at Walton Stadium, including Sarah Luebbert of Jefferson City, who finished her career in the program’s all-time top 10 in both goals and assists. Hard-working defenders Anna Frick and Peyton Joseph each played all 90 minutes of Thursday’s contest, with Frick completing her senior campaign having not missed a minute of action in MU’s 18 games.
Midfielder Madison Lewis and defender Izzy Coulter also capped their final seasons with the loss. After playing just 50 total minutes in her first three seasons, Coulter was on the pitch for 77 on her final night.
Mississippi State (8-7-3, 3-4-3), which came in needing a win to keep its SEC Tournament hopes alive, controlled the run of play from the start, scoring twice before the midway point of the first half. Makayla Waldner headed home a corner kick in the eighth minute and Onyi Echegini cleaned up her own rebound after hitting the post in the 21st.
Luebbert and Julissa Cisneros, Missouri’s top attacking partnership all season, connected for the final time in the 23rd minute. Luebbert dribbled into the box and slotted a pass to Cisneros, who lifted the ball into the roof of the net from close range.
The Tigers’ momentum was short-lived, as Mississippi State responded seven minutes later to restore its two-goal advantage. Monigo Karnley placed a shot past Gillian Schulte, the third-string goalkeeper whom MU has turned to in recent weeks with Peyton Bauman and McKenna Sheehan out.
As Missouri’s season faded, Cisneros bagged a consolation goal in the 82nd minute to raise her scoring total to 11 on the season. The sophomore’s haul was the most by a Tiger in a single campaign since 2009.
With the victory over Missouri and Tennessee’s loss to Arkansas on Thursday, Mississippi State qualified for its first SEC Tournament since 2004. On the flipside of the result were the Tigers, who went from never having finished outside the league’s top 10 to finding themselves at the very bottom of the heap.
“We definitely didn’t get there, and that was our goal,” Luebbert said, speaking of the team’s failure to continue its run of SEC Tournament appearances. “But it’s okay. We still got to come out and play one last time, and it was great.”
The impact of the goalkeeper situation on Missouri’s troubled season cannot be underestimated. Starter Peyton Bauman missed the final month of the campaign with an undisclosed illness, while backup McKenna Sheehan went down with appendicitis shortly after assuming the starting role.
Schulte, an inexperienced walk-on, was unable to keep the team competitive the way the two scholarship goalkeepers had. She surrendered 13 goals in four starts as the season drew to a close.
“We had some unusual things happen, but you are what your record says you are,” coach Bryan Blitz said. “Certainly there will be a lot of reevaluation all the way through.”
Blitz, who has led the program since it began in 1996, said he would need time to determine the next steps following one on the team’s most difficult years to date.
“I think we need a little bit of time and step away and see where the issues came from and we have to get those corrected,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of good, young players coming through ... That senior class is going to be hard to replace, but there’s seniors every year.”