Bulls rally back to tie, snap drought
Published: Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
It was a crucial moment for the women’s soccer team: down one at halftime, coming off a disappointing showing Friday night against defending Mid-American Conference champion Toledo (4-7-1, 2-2-1 MAC), and having won only one game in its last seven attempts.
It would have been easy for this team to falter. But Sunday was a different day, as the Bulls (2-8-2, 0-3-1 MAC) rallied back and took advantage of a golden opportunity to earn a 1-1 tie, stealing a win from Northern Illinois (5-4-2, 1-1-2 MAC) in the 54th minute.
The Bulls did it with a back-up in net: redshirt freshman Sarah Moore, who filled in for injured junior Ainsley Wheldon.
“With everything that’s been rolling against us it would have been easy to just go away and put our heads down after going down 1-0,” said head coach Michael Thomas. “I thought the girls did a phenomenal job of fighting back and continuing to fight even after the bounces maybe didn’t go our way.”
Senior forward Taylor Thompson made a run on the right side of the field, eluding two Huskies defenders flanking her side. Her cross deep from the corner of the Northern Illinois goal line went across the box to the foot of freshman forward N’Dea Johnson, who drew another defender and tapped it to senior forward Stephanie Velez, who was wide open for the easy finish.
It was Velez’s first goal of the season, one made possible by the aggressive, attacking play of Thompson and Johnson, two players who Thomas raved about afterward.
“It was a great individual effort by Taylor Thompson,” Thomas said. “You can have a class assist. Taylor was able to eliminate two defenders and a goalkeeper, just with the assist.”
He had even more glowing remarks about the young Johnson, who continued her strong play this year after what Thomas called her best performance of the season in the loss to Toledo.
“N’Dea is the best natural athlete on the team and probably one of the best in the conference,” Thomas said. “She’s still working on her decision-making process, and when she figures it out she’s going to be dangerous. The thing we’ve been trying to get her to do is simplify because when she just goes out and lets her physical gifts take control, she’s a handful.”
Moore filled in admirably in the first start of her career. She gave up a tough goal early on, a chip shot in the 17th minute by Northern Illinois midfielder Sara Spaulding that barely floated out of Moore’s reach.
Despite that, she was able to buckle down on the defensive end and tallied a remarkable 11 saves on the day. Most of them came late, in the final overtime period, as the Huskies had multiple opportunities to win the game but were swiftly denied by Moore and the Buffalo defense, preserving the tie.
Despite the lack of in-game experience, Moore wasn’t shocked by her strong performance.
“I’ve been practicing with this team for almost a year and a half and I’ve made these routine saves,” Moore said. “I’ve done it over and over again. I kept telling myself: I’ve done this before, I’m just in uniform playing against people that are not my teammates. It’s just a mentality, muscle memory. It’s almost second nature at this point.”
The result nets Buffalo its first points in MAC play after four games, a point that Thomas was pleased with despite the tie.
“We wanted to win today and we played well enough to come out and get that win,” Thomas said. “So without ever being satisfied with not getting a win at home, I was satisfied with things today.”
The Bulls will embark on another long road trip, a four-game stretch starting with Friday’s battle with rival Kent State (6-3-2, 1-2-1 MAC). Last year, the Bulls swept the Golden Flashes, which included back-to-back wins in the final game of the season and the first game of the MAC tournament.
The game in Kent, Ohio is slated for 4 p.m.