Women’s soccer unable to hold on, eliminated from tourney contention with 2-1 loss
Senior forward Stephanie Velez (9) is one of seven seniors whose careers came to an end on Thursday at UB Stadium. Sophomore forward Katie Roberts (8) is part of the contingent that will look to continue the seniors' tradition of excellence next year. Courtesy of Porsche Jones
Same story, different sport. The women's soccer team found itself just one win shy of postseason play. A simple win versus a team that was already eliminated from the Mid-American Conference Tournament: the Akron Zips.
It seems no matter the sport, the two schools are always battling in the end.
The Zips had the last laugh in this one.
After holding a 1-0 lead late in the contest, Buffalo (5-12-2, 3-7-1 Mid-American Conference) dropped its final match of the season to Akron (6-11-1, 2-8-1 MAC) 2-1 in what was a back-and-forth affair with a heartbreaking ending. Unable to capture the necessary points, the Bulls' season came to an end Thursday afternoon.
"I don't think you can imagine a harder way to end the season," said head coach Michael Thomas. "I thought we came out here and created a lot of chances. We've had a problem capitalizing on these chances throughout the season and it came back and bit us again. But I'm extremely proud of the effort of the team. With the push, they came on late in the season. We just found our identity a little later than we needed to."
The Bulls knew this was a must-win game and played like it. They dominated the first half, outshooting the Zips 8-4 while holding Akron to zero shots on goal. The Bulls had their share of opportunities, including a shot in the third minute by junior forward Courtney Gross that sailed over the net.
Junior goalkeeper Ainsley Wheldon wasn't called upon at all in the first half, but she stepped up when her name was called early in the second. With the game still scoreless, Akron's Kristen Schulte broke away from the Buffalo defense for a one-on-one with the keeper. As per usual, Wheldon put her body on the line for the team. She came charging out of the net and blocked Akron's shot. The training staff came out to check on her, but she walked it off and stayed in the match.
Senior forward Stephanie Velez continued her unforgettable final week at UB Stadium. Following the game winner Sunday, Velez scored the first goal of the match on a penalty kick in the 73rd minute - following an Akron handball inside the box - to give Buffalo a 1-0 lead.
The Bulls hoped this would be a fairytale ending for Velez, who has battled her share of injuries and rough times over her four years, but this was also the final match for Akron's seniors, who were not ready to go down without a fight.
In the 80th minute, Akron's Karina Atkinson crossed the ball to Akron's leading scorer, Ashley Hughes. In Hughes' final regular season match, she fired a shot that hit off the crossbar and bounced into the net to tie the game at one.
After Akron's goal, the Buffalo faithful came alive. Although the crowd was small, the noise mimicked a Buffalo-Akron basketball game during the final 10 minutes. The Bulls created scoring opportunities but couldn't end the game in regulation and the crowd was with them every step of the way.
After both teams failed to score in the final minutes of regulation, the game progressed to overtime.
It didn't last long.
Akron scored within the first 71 seconds of overtime, following a Buffalo foul. Kelly Deniro took the free kick for the Zips from 30 yards out and put it in the upper left corner of the net. Wheldon gave all she could, but the shot was unreachable.
The stadium went silent in shock, as the Bulls watched the Akron bench in disbelief.
However, Thomas believes despite the sting of the loss, it's a feeling that will motivate his team in 2013.
"The lesson to be learned from this season is how fine of an edge there is between success and failure in this game," Thomas said. "And I know that anytime that I am going to be slow out of getting bed to get to an offseason training session, this moment is going to be in my memory and I can pretty much guarantee the team would say the same."
The loss was hardest for the seniors, who were a part of a three-win season and a one-win season in their first two years at Buffalo. This was their final match. Buffalo's seven seniors are: Shannon Algoe, Shannon Fisher, Katie Kerr, Taylor Thompson, Stephanie Velez, Carolyn McNamara and Angela Nicholas.
"I don't think you can put into words what these kids have meant to the University at Buffalo athletic program," Thomas said. "On the field, they bled for four to five years. They made the University at Buffalo soccer program relevant again, and they've done it by being fantastic students and fantastic human beings."
Although the season ended without a playoff berth, this team fought hard to the end, winning its three of its final six conference games following a 0-4-1 start in conference play. The Bulls have a lot of returning talent and although their seniors will be missed, the team continues to look to build its program and keep moving in the right direction.
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