Megan Oduyoye defends against Notre Dame's Olivia Wingate

Megan Oduyoye defends against Notre Dame’s Olivia Wingate on Sept. 9 in Columbia. The redshirt sophomore has gradually turned into a crucial player for the Tigers.

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It was early in the match, but Missouri soccer had already created some chances. By the third minute, one could tell the Tigers meant business against No. 13 Ole Miss and had a corner to show for their efforts. The ball came in and after a mad scramble the Rebels cleared it away.

Just not far enough.

It trickled out to Megan Oduyoye, who launched a first-time hit toward goal. As the SEC Network+ commentator said, goalkeeper Ashley Orkus did well just to get her fingers on it. Unfortunately for her and Ole Miss, she didn’t do well enough.

Oduyoye’s shot flew into the top-right corner from the top of the box to give the Tigers a shock 1-0 lead. It was a crucial moment, as the Tigers won 2-1, largely thanks to Oduyoye’s strike and her performance on defense.

“(I was) in shock,” Oduyoye said after the match. “(It) was greater than I could have imagined. I was ready, leaned over and just hoped it would go in.”

It was her first collegiate goal and first career point. It was the latest in a season of firsts for the redshirt sophomore from Cincinnati, Ohio, who earned her first start in a 5-0 loss to Vanderbilt.

Since that start, Oduyoye has become one of the first names on the team sheet. She’s started every match since then and has been among the Tigers’ most consistent performers, putting in several strong performances in the Missouri backline.

“Megan is resilient — she’s a fighter,” Missouri coach Stefanie Golan said after the Ole Miss match. … “In training, (she) is one of those kids who will sacrifice to block shots.

“She’s got a lot of room for growth as well, and the fact that we get an opportunity to develop her further for a little bit longer is going to be a fun opportunity for us as a coaching staff.”

That resiliency has been on display essentially since she arrived in Columbia.

Oduyoye tore her Achilles tendon during her freshman year. This season is her first being fully healthy since joining MU.

“I just wanted to come in and come out strong and stay healthy,” Oduyoye said. “It’s definitely exciting being my first time really experiencing a fall season.”

Oduyoye and Missouri will hope to build upon the momentum from topping one of the conference favorites. In their push to reach the 10-team SEC Tournament in Orange Beach, Alabama, the Tigers’ next match brings them to Lexington, Kentucky, to face the already eliminated Wildcats.

Kentucky, under the stewardship of interim coach Paul Babba following the firing of Ian Carry, is currently winless in conference play and sits in the basement of the SEC. The Wildcats were eliminated from postseason contention Thursday with a 2-1 loss to Alabama after extra time.

But for a team coming in with momentum, this is exactly the kind of match that could end a season.

“Kentucky’s in an interesting place right now,” Golan said. “You don’t know really what to expect, but we have to bring our best every time we come out to give ourselves a chance.”

In order for a team like Missouri to make the SEC Tournament, it takes team and individual performances like Thursday night. While it was the Tigers’ best collective performance of the season, one individual shone above the rest. Oduyoye’s goal proved pivotal in that match, and could yet be a massive point on the timeline in Missouri’s run to “Reach the Beach.”

“(It’s a) great turning point for us,” Oduyoye said. “We’re still trying in our fight for Orange Beach, so to beat the No. 13 team was definitely a big win.”

This article originally ran on columbiamissourian.com.

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