On the rise
Bulls look to talented youth to duplicate success
Published: Friday, June 22, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
The women’s soccer team was one of the only programs at Buffalo to get national recognition last year. The Bulls (12-5-4, 4-3-4 Mid-American Conference) were the biggest surprise in the country, winning 11 more games in 2011 then they did in 2010.
Just a year removed from a season when the Bulls tallied one win, they did what no one expected of them: winning 12 games total and upsetting Kent State on their own turf in the quarterfinals of the MAC tournament before they finally lost to Toledo, the eventual MAC champions, in the tournament semifinals.
The 12-win season was the first time that the Bulls had won more games than they had lost in more than a decade. Buffalo’s surprise resurgence was the best season-to-season turnaround in the country last year, and now the Bulls are hungry to get even better.
“We were really good at winning individual battles [last year],” said head coach Michael Thomas. “I thought the girls showed up and played with a real consistency and sense of purpose and we need to bring that same urgency to the field each and every day this season.”
What makes this Bulls team so intimidating is the overwhelming amount of youth and depth that performed so well last year. The Bulls return nearly all of their starters and bring back some players that were injured for most of last season. These players are now ready to compete and fill in for their teammates while maintaining a high level of competition.
“We don’t have a player on the team right now that we look at we say ‘yeah she’s not going to be able to play,’” Thomas said. “It is going to be extremely competitive this fall. None of the starters are feeling very comfortable because there is so much talent behind them pushing them every day.”
The Bulls depth not only helps them on the field, but off it as well.
Returning captain and senior defenseman Shannon Algoe will once again help lead the Bulls during the season. Over the past two seasons, Algoe – who was named an Academic All-American over the off-season – has not only been a strong leader but also a strong presence in the backfield for the Bulls, part of a defensive unit that held opponents to less than a goal per game last season.
But Algoe is not the only source of leadership for this team. Fellow senior defender Carolyn McNamara, senior midfielder Shannon Fisher, senior forward and midfielder Katie Kerr and senior defender Angela Nicholas all have had successful varsity careers and have plenty of experience, which Thomas looks for them to share with their younger teammates.
Additionally, junior goalkeeper Ainsley Wheldon was perhaps the most high profile Bull last season, as she proved to be one of the top goaltenders in the country.
In addition to of all the reasons the Bulls have to be optimistic, Thomas mentioned that 16 of the Bulls’ games last year were decided by one goal or less, provoking Thomas’ description of the 2011 season as being “on a pretty fine edge.” Because of the numerous close calls last season, Thomas has his team focused on the process of preparing for the season and not necessarily the outcome of the games.
The Bulls youth last season was more evident in the midfield than perhaps any other part of the team. Three of the four midfield positions were consistently played by freshman last season, while Fisher manned the fourth.
“Those freshmen have a year under their belt and we are really excited for whether our midfield can take that next step,” Thomas said. “[The sophomores] bring a lot of youth to that position still but have a lot of great experience from last year.”
The difference between where the Bulls were a year ago and are now is monumental. Instead of struggling to win games, they can now focus on making a deep run into the conference tournament and prove that their success last season was not a fluke.
There is one guarantee for Buffalo this year, though: they won’t be surprising anyone.