Back to back: UB women’s soccer looks to repeat as MAC Champions

womensoccer

Last season was one for the ages for the women’s soccer team.

The Bulls finished with a record of 16-3-3, won their first-ever Mid-American Conference Championship while earning the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament bid in the process.

And with the 2015-16 season underway, the Bulls (2-2) are poised to defend their title as MAC champions – even with the loss of many team-changing seniors.

The talented, yet young, Bulls squad was projected to finish first in the MAC East, despite losing a plethora of talent to graduation last year, including All-MAC standouts Katie Roberts and Courtney Mann, as well as lockdown defender Sophie Therien.

After the season-opening 3-1 loss to St. Joseph’s (2-1), Bulls head coach Shawn Burke was disappointed, but glad the mistakes on the field seemed “fixable.” With three weeks before conference play, Burke finds this part of the season to be the most important to make adjustments.

“This time is massive,” Burke said. “We got five new field players in new roles; nearly half of our field players. It’s good to go out there and get that experience because come conference time and those games count. The non-conference will help us with that experience.”

As the newer players figure out their spot on the field, it’s the returning players that makes the Bulls dangerous and in contention for their second MAC Championship in as many years.

Notable returning players are senior defender Jackie Hall and sophomore goalkeeper Laura Dougall. Hall is one of four returning seniors on the roster and is coming off a banner season, one that earned her MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors and third team All-American honors.

Yet, Hall, when asked, said the seniors on the roster don’t have to be the leaders, as some of the younger key contributors from last season’s team are also expected to assume leadership roles.

“As a senior, I get to help and be a leader on the field and on practice,” Hall said. “Still, a ton of girls from last year also moved into a leadership role and grew up after last season, so we have a ton of leaders on the team. Because of that, I think our new players will contribute a lot quicker.”

While Hall retains her status as one of the star upperclassmen on the roster, it’s Dougall, just a sophomore, who looks to continue the torrid pace that netted her MAC Freshmen of the Year honors. Her goals for this season are to replicate last season’s ending.

“I want to get the most shutouts in UB history and break every possible record,” Dougall said. “My main goal is to win another MAC Championship and be able to celebrate here with my teammates.”

Dougall is coming off perhaps the best freshman season in program history. She finished with program records in wins (16), shutouts (13) and total minutes (1,985). This season, she’s off to a good start, with two shutouts within the team’s first four games.

The Bulls defense is beginning to settle in, the offense is a small area of concern. Last season, Buffalo scored 33 goals in 22 games. This season, the Bulls are amassing shots – 33 shots on goal in four games – but haven’t found the back of the net, with just four goals in four games.

The loss of Roberts and her 27 total points last season to graduation meant the Bulls had to rely on other players for offensive production. Junior forward Celina Carrero and sophomore midfielder Julia Benati were two players expected to take the step forward offensively, as both finished second and third on the team in points last season.

So far, the duo has combined for three points, but Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to St. Bonaventure (1-1-2) only created more questions about the offense.

Despite the team’s offensive struggles to start the season, Burke said that he expects the team to be fine heading into conference play. While he wants his best players to score, Burke also suggested that he wants more balanced offensive play from his team.

“We would like a bit of both,” Burke said. “It’s only a matter of time until our key players begin to find their stride and put the ball in the back of the net. We’ve been doing this a long time, it’s all about putting getting the chemistry and everyone is working slowly. Once it starts clicking, it’s going to be fun and exciting year.”

The Bulls return home after a three-game road trip to face Syracuse (2-2) on Sunday, Sept. 6 at UB Stadium. Kickoff begins at 12 p.m.

Quentin Haynes is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at quentin.haynes@ubspectrum.com.