The following is a column contributed by KBIA Sports Director Darren Hellwege.
It was a typical Brian Blitz comment, deflecting credit from himself, downplaying a significant personal accomplishment. “I just wanted the win, I don’t care if it’s No. 3 or 5. It just means I’ve had great players, and I’ve been around a long time.” It means a great deal more than that. Blitz was on the hot seat just a few years ago, and that Mike Alden kept his faith in the coach has been rewarded with two straight conference titles and multiple trips to the NCAA tournament. And Blitz’s abilities (and, yes, longevity) have given his teams victory on 200 occasions.
Of course it’s taken some time, six games to be exact, to get to 200 and the first win of this 2010 season for the Tigers. But once the win finally came, it came with style as the Tigers dominated in every aspect of the game in topping Arkansas 4-0 Friday night at Walton Stadium. The win puts Mizzou at 1-3-2 on the year, although one has to note that all three losses came to nationally ranked teams, including defending national champ North Carolina.
But excuses don’t mean much to Blitz and his Tigers, and getting this first victory felt good to all involved. “It is such a huge relief,” said Tiger forward Kendra Collins. “It’s a little confidence boost.”
Collins got the scoring underway for the Tigers early, part of a strong rush of Mizzou players with two or three in the box overwhelming the Razorback defense before Collins tucked one into the net to give Mizzou the lead 1-0. Although there would be several opportunities throughout the first half, that 1-0 lead held up until the second half. But not long after intermission, the Tigers got back onto the scorecard with Alysha Bonnick getting her fourth goal of the year in the 49th. Bonnick was a part of a strong Tiger offense, nearly scoring again a few minutes later.
“In practice we worked on slotting it into the hole,” Bonnick explained. “We usually use our speed…(but) teams have found out we’re fast and have clogged the middle so now we have to play wide and get the crosses.” As she’s picked up her first few caps for the Canadian National Team, senior Bonnick remains a key part of the Tigers. “We have such a young attack, if you look at her stats over the last few games, she gives us a great example against great teams, and we’re going to need her all year to continue that to be successful,” commented Blitz.
The Tigers extended their lead when the official pointed to the spot for a penalty kick. Although the Tigers led by a very wide margin in fouls (hardly unusual for the aggressive, physical team) the one that counted came against the Hogs. Kari Adam took the PK for the Tigers and slammed it past the hand of Arkansas’ fine goalkeeper Britni Williams. Adam then added her 2nd goal of the night, being given credit for the score on a Razorbacks own goal in the closing moments to give Mizzou their final 4-0 margin.
A damp coach Blitz (having been doused by his team in celebration of win No. 200, hardly original but hey, they’re college students and deserve a fun moment, so I won’t criticize) said the win was an important way to start their six-game homestand. “It’s why we planned the schedule we did. Winning is hard, the previous games won’t let us forget that.” Blitz called the early goal of Collins “a blessing and a curse.
“I’ve seen teams score early and then let down, but what I like is the games we’ve played previously prepared us to stay for the next goal, and the next goal, and the next.”
Another significant note from Friday night was that it was the first Tiger start for Paula Pritzen. The senior was one of the ACC’s top netminders at Clemson before transferring, and competition between her and sophomore Jessica Gwin will be interesting to watch throughout the season, giving Blitz an embarrassment of riches at the position. Pritzen was solid in the box in her first game, getting three saves although strong play by the Tiger midfield limited Arkansas’ scoring opportunities throughout the 90 minutes.
The game was played in windy conditions with the threat of rain, but light sprinkles through the second half were not a significant factor.
The Tigers wrap up non-conference play next weekend with a pair of matches at Walton, starting with Friday night’s game with Loyola (Maryland). The Greyhounds are 2-4 following last night’s shutout win over George Washington. The Tigers Sunday will take on Milwaukee, the Panthers are 2-2-2 but have played a tough schedule including a win over Michigan State, and losses to Notre Dame and Auburn.
The Tigers play Loyola Friday at 6:30 and UW-M Sunday at 1 pm at Mizzou’s Audrey J. Walton Stadium. The Tigers open Big 12 Conference play on Sept. 24 at home against Kansas. The arch-rival Jayhawks were the only team in the Big 12 to beat MU in regular season play last year, beating the Tigers 3-2 in Lawrence in the season’s finale.
Notes on 200: The victory was No. 155 at Mizzou for Blitz, the only coach in program history. His other wins came at Butler, where Blitz was 45-44-8 in 5 seasons as head coach with the Bulldogs. The Dallas native attended Tulsa University, also the alma mater of Mizzou men’s basketball coach Mike Anderson.
One other note…we mentioned that Mike Alden showed patience with Blitz when the Tigers were struggling some years back and that it’s been rewarded. This writer also remembers a time when some were calling for the firings of Blitz, Brian Smith, Tim Jamieson, and yes, even Gary Pinkel. Although there’ve been a couple of disappointments, for the most part Alden’s habit of hiring coaches he believes in and sticking with them through thick and thin has been a very solid way of doing things.