Women’s soccer was crowned Mid-American Conference (MAC) champions last fall for the second time in program history — and they already appear poised to repeat that success this season.
This year’s team has already made history during the pre-season when it became the first UB team to ever beat Ohio State with a 2-1 victory on Aug. 20 in Ohio.
That win gave the team a “there’s nothing we can’t accomplish” mindset, head coach Shawn Burke said.
The team also faced Pittsburgh, who they lost to in the NCAA tournament last fall. While they weren’t able to stave off defeat, they managed to keep the No. 9-ranked team from scoring more than two goals, with midfielder/forward sophomore Katie Krohn netting the ball in the 89th minute to bring the score to 2-1.
“I think everybody is going to have to watch out for Katie Krohn this year, every opponent,” Burke said. “I think she’s gonna have a breakout year for sure.”
The Bulls faced Canisius College and Niagara University this past weekend, producing a 0-0 tie and 2-0 win respectively. Krohn came up big, scoring the only two goals of the weekend against Niagara. She also had a big opportunity against Canisius when she made a header attempt off a free kick that Canisius’ goalkeeper saved.
UB had eight players leave due to eligibility requirements and graduation at the end of 2022. This season's roster consists of 10 new players — eight freshmen and two transfers.
One of the most notable former Bulls was goalkeeper Emily Kelly, who is now playing professional soccer in Australia. Kelly was the starting goalkeeper for five years, becoming the winningest goalkeeper in program history with 54 wins, while also holding the program’s record of 35 shutouts. She helped the Bulls go undefeated in 13 MAC games last year.
Freshman goalkeeper Lexie Thompson has stepped up to fill Kelly’s shoes. She has started in four games this year, making nine saves and allowing only three goals, two of which came against Pittsburgh in their only loss.
Burke says UB is lucky because it has two number one goalkeepers on the roster. Rebecca Winslow, a senior transfer from Monmouth College, played her first game in a Bulls jersey against Canisius College, where she maintained a clean sheet and came up for one save.
During the 2022 campaign, the team only allowed a total of nine goals — only four of which occurred during the regular season. This allowed them to go on a 17-game undefeated streak, breaking the program's previous record, set in 2014.
The current roster is still finding its strength on the defensive side. The Bulls only allowed Canisus to take five shots on Thursday, with only one on goal. Despite the draw, UB was dominant on the field and prevented Canisius from earning any corner kicks; Winslow only had to come up with one save. UB was able to create 14 shots, five being on frame and produced eight corners but were unable to convert on their opportunities.
UB’s game against Niagara again proved that the team can maintain a strong defensive presence. Niagara had more opportunities on goal than Canisius, but the team was able to keep a clean sheet. Niagara had 13 shots compared to UB’s 27.
But despite all the change, there are still many players from last year’s squad who are stepping up.
Fifth-year midfielder Leah Wengender is one of those key players. Wengender has been named to the Hermann trophy watch list for the 2023 season, the only player from the MAC to be named to that list this season. She scored the game-winning goal against Ball State to clinch the MAC title last year, earning herself a spot on the MAC All-Tournament team. She has already scored two goals in four games she played this season.
Burke says Wengender has been “phenomenal” and has become a leader to the team’s new players.
“I know as a freshman, it took me a minute to adapt to our style of play,” Wengender said. “I would have loved to have guidance for that right away. I did the best I could for anyone near me to just try and help them… some days get really frustrating, and I’ll try to take people aside and be like, ‘It’s OK, you’re doing good.’”
A key aspect to the team’s success last season was the addition of a mindfulness coach, Burke said. Gearing up for the regular season, Burke says they are planning on having even more sessions with her this season. He believes a big part of their success so early on in the season is due to their mindfulness sessions.
With new players added to the mix, old leaders gone, and new ones stepping up, the defending champions have a target on their back heading into this season.
“Obviously we had a ton of success last year,” Burke said. “But it’s a new group. It’s a new season and new challenges. I think this group really embraces that they’re excited and eager to show everybody what this group can do.”
The Bulls’ next game is Sunday, Sept. 10 against Cornell at 1 p.m. at UB Stadium. The game can be streamed on YouTube.
The Bulls start the MAC regular season on Thursday Sept. 21 at Akron.
Amy Maslin is the senior sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com