By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Missouri head soccer coach Bryan Blitz could feel the momentum building around his program entering the 2008 campaign. The Tigers had reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament the previous season before falling in double overtime to Southern Cal, and returned a corps of six seniors who had committed themselves, above all else, to hard work.
“I think they were always humble, always working class and never got full of themselves even with the success that they had,” Blitz said of his 2008 senior class. “They were late bloomers as far as recruits go. They may not have had all the bells and whistles coming out of high school, but we thought they would mature later. They had kind of a chip on their shoulders and that always drove them.”
Blitz was searching for a system that would compliment his team’s strengths. He turned to legendary North Carolina head coach Anson Dorrance to learn about the coach’s patented 3-4-3 offensive scheme.
“It is a very unique system that only Carolina plays,” Blitz said. “We tried it in the spring and it really fit our personnel. It was the perfect system for the mentality that our players had.”
Mo Redmond, a Brownsburg, Ind., native and a senior midfielder on the 2008 squad, found the system to fit perfectly with the talents and abilities of that squad.
“We had a lot of athletic girls; we were technical and we were also a bigger team that was physical and aggressive, so it kind of combined the two,” Redmond said. “We definitely became more offensive minded. We weren’t scared of teams. We had a very strong back line and we encouraged everybody to get forward and put pressure on teams. We trained hard and it definitely showed.”
That Missouri team compiled a 13-5-0 regular season record, including a 7-3 tally in Big 12 Conference play. That ledger represented a program high for both overall and conference wins during the regular season.
It wasn’t just the technical strengths of the players on that 2008 team. The teamwork and desire that each player, particularly the upperclassmen, had to reach new heights was a driving factor in the team’s success.
“I think the first few years they kind of underachieved or didn’t know what it took to get there,” Blitz said. “Once they made the decision, it forged the bond for their journey to really do something that hadn’t been done at Missouri. That hard work and extra elbow grease that they put in just forged a bond through tough times and helped them withstand everything and rise above.”
The expectations that Blitz set forth allowed the athletes to achieve their potential and to truly operate as a team.
“Bryan treated us as adults,” Redmond said. “You are in college and you are still learning, but he made it real. If you have a problem with one of your teammates, you need to let them know and figure it out. There wasn’t going to be anything done behind our backs. We put it out there that we are Mizzou and we deal with problems both inside and outside our program but, everything we do, we do as a team.”
That led to a highly competitive sprit within the team and its practices that was driven from within the players themselves.
“We had a lot of competitiveness in practice,” Blitz said. “At times, we had to cut practice short because sometimes it got out of hand. That piece you can’t teach, it came from within. They would hold each other accountable and not take things personal because they had a common goal.”
Redmond remembered the intensity of each practice and believes that the constant competitiveness helped develop the Tigers’ fierce mentality.
“We got really competitive because it was a fight,” Redmond said. “We went into practice every day fighting for playing time because it wasn’t guaranteed. Just because you started the game before doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to start again. We needed to earn it in practice and that really brought out the competitive atmosphere every day. We could be super competitive, very physical and out to win everything, but off the field each person was a family member.”
Perhaps no word was more meaningful to the 2008 Missouri soccer team than this one: family.
The student-athletes and coaches thought of one another as family and that bond proved to be one of the critical links behind the accomplishments of the Tigers.
“It’s my family,” said Redmond, when asked what came to mind about the 2008 team. “We knew that the girls ahead of us had worked so hard to build a great program and Bryan had brought in a great group of girls. We were a family and we weren’t going to go down without a fight. We wanted to go where no one had and represent all of those who had played for the Missouri soccer team.”
The Tigers achieved their goal of attaining new heights when they claimed the 2008 Big 12 Soccer Tournament Championship. Missouri defeated No. 9 Texas in the event’s first round before defeating Kansas in penalty kicks to advance to the championship match.
In the championship, Redmond scored just six minutes into the match and the Missouri defense stood up strong to secure the 1-0 victory for the program’s first-ever Big 12 Championship. For Blitz and his team, the victory served as validation for all the hard work they had invested.
“There’s nothing like success to validate it,” Blitz said. “Sometimes you have grand schemes and your kids work really hard, and sometimes you don’t get what you deserve. But it was a good lesson for them moving forward into the real world. They latched on to life lessons. You have to work hard and life isn’t always fair, but if you keep working hard, things will eventually go your way.”
Redmond agreed, saying that the Tigers accomplished a goal that season that they had been seeking for several years.
“The Big 12 Championship was always something we had in mind,” Redmond said. “The tournament means a little more because you have to stay consistent with single-round elimination. We went into the tournament with our heads held high and brought home the Big 12 Championship. For a lot of people, that validated Mizzou soccer and said that it was going to be here to stay. We were going to play at a consistently high level and be nationally ranked every year.”
Missouri finished the 2008 season with a second-round NCAA Tournament loss to Illinois in penalty kicks. During that campaign, the Tigers set new school records in wins (16), home wins (10), shutouts (12), fewest goals allowed (19), goals against average (0.80) and shots (515) among others.
“We are always able to point back to that group for their work-ethic, blue-collar mentality, being mentally tough and doing the little things,” Blitz said. “Working hard doesn’t always guarantee success, but it will eventually come down the road. That’s the piece they have left that carries through for us and we can reference it.”
That lasting legacy is something in which Redmond, now a registered nurse, and her teammates from 2008 take great pride.
“I am extremely proud,” Redmond said. “I talk to all the girls and still say that I would give anything to go back to playing college soccer. Even thought I enjoy my job as an adult, there is something about being a part of a team that is special. I’m so proud to wear Mizzou stuff and tell people about playing for Mizzou. It was a proud thing to not only be a part of the team but to be an NCAA women’s soccer player who has gone on to have a successful career."