I would say the UB Women's Soccer team is hitting their stride, but they've been in their stride for a full month now. Over their first eight games in MAC play, dating back to 26 September at Kent State, UB is 6-0-2, good for first place in the MAC with just three to go.
Today's match saw UB get off to a very fast start; in the first ten minutes the stats for Toledo stats were a single foul and a single save - both stats you earn when you don't have the ball.
As is their custom, UB scored first, when Celina Carrero received a pass from Courtney Mann and past Toledo keeper Sam Tiongson. The Bulls have failed the score first in just three games this season, and held their opponents to a scoreless tie in two of those instances. Only nationally-ranked Virginia Tech has managed to score first on UB.
Head Coach Shawn Burke's usual substitutions came a bit later that normal: Generally he'll mix up three or four of his midfielders and forwards around the midpoint of the half, but today waited until the 32nd minute to sub in Megan Abman, Rachel Cook, and Alex Lambert. The moves paid off almost immediately, when in the 35th minute Cook sent in a cross that Abman hammered home.
Given that only Western Michigan and Cornell have managed to flip momentum against UB this year, and Buffalo dominated Toledo so thoroughly, things were looking pretty good at the halftime break, with UB having gotten more shots on target than Toledo shots at all, and the Rockets having gone a full 45 minutes without generating enough pressure to be called for offsides or earn a corner kick.
Other than two shots in the first minutes of the half, very little happened for Buffalo for about 35 minutes. Impressively, Toledo was able to do even less. The Rockets went from the 38th minute until the 79th without getting a shot of any sort, even a weak long attempt that skittered wide. That shot in the 79th, though, was a quality chance, and UB needed an excellent clearance from Sophie Therien to preserve the goose egg.
At that point the Rockets found a little bit of mojo and were able to get three shots off in the next five minutes. Celina Carrero wiped away any chance of a comeback, however, with her second goal of the game in the 88th minute. Dougall was called upon to make one more save, and UB is heading home from a weekend road trip with two wins on two Dougall shutouts and three goals from Carrero.
The shutout is Dougall's tenth of the year, and the team's eleventh. Dougall has tied Ainsley Wheldon for the school single-season shutout record, and the team as a whole is just one away from the overall program mark. Both were set in 2011, when Wheldon had 10 and UB 12 blank slates.
Carrero's three goals this weekend bring her up to six on the year. The sophomore is just one off Katie Roberts' team lead. Both Dougall and Carrero are good bets to sweep the MAC Players of the Week award this week.
UB next plays Friday at home against Ball State at 5:00 PM.
The win over Toledo wraps up UB's road games for the year, and the Bulls have just three home games remaining in the regular season. They now sit in first place with 20 points, one ahead of Miami, who has 19.
Only Miami and Eastern Michigan have a realistic chance of catching and passing UB for first place overall in the MAC, so the Bulls are nearly guaranteed to host a first round game in the MAC playoffs on Sunday, November 2. By staying in first place the Bulls can clinch home field advantage throughout the eight-team playoffs, which would be a great thing for this writer, who probably isn't going to travel further than Akron or Kent for a championship match.
Of UB's three remaining games, Ball State on Friday sits at second in the West division, and Akron next Thursday is a bottom-feeder in the East, but it's the home match a week from now against Miami that will swing first place. UB could earn six points from the other two games and get some help from Miami's opponents, but essentially, a win over Miami next Sunday ices first place for Buffalo.
Hope to see you there! Go Bulls!