If you want to look at the coaching change in football and yesterday's uninspiring loss on the gridiron and use it as a referendum on the entire athletics department, that's your prerogative, but you'd be mistakenly ignoring a number of UB teams enjoying their best years in a long time.
We don't even have to limit it to the UB women's soccer program to fit this year's team into a list of UB superlatives. They're one of the best teams UB has ever seen. In any sport.
After today's 2-0 victory over Miami, in which the Redhawks did not get a shot on goal in the first half and only managed three for the game, the Bulls are now on a ten-game unbeaten streak, sitting 8-0-2 in the MAC and 12-2-3 in the season. Today's win clinches the MAC regular season title and sets them up to host the semifinals and finals of the conference tournament two weekends from now should they win their home quarterfinal match next Sunday.
Ball State's gumption in the first half of Friday's game, even before the penalty-kick goal, showed that the Bulls won't be able to roll over quite everyone in the MAC. Given Miami's position just a single point behind UB and Kelsey Dinges spot sharing the MAC scoring lead with Buffalo senior Katie Roberts, no one was surprised when in the first fifteen minutes each team enjoyed periods of pressure before the game settled into a midfield battle.
Twenty minutes in, though, UB worked up the left sideline through freshman Julia Benati after spending lots of early effort on her right-side counterpart Kassidy Kidd. Benati made a great run deep up the far sideline and earned a throw-in which quickly became a corner for UB. Buffalo was excellent on set pieces all day and was able to capitalize after the ball bounced around a bit when Angel Hart got a foot on it for her first career goal.
After that, it was mostly UB for the rest of the half. Minutes later Jackie Hall whiffed on a loose ball just yards outside of the net, but Miami wasn't able to develop much counterpunch. Laura Dougall didn't face a single Redhawk shot in the half, but was very good on set pieces on corners - a necessity with Miami the top team in the conference in corners taken.
Late in the half UB fell back on their heels a bit, but Coach Burke subbed in Megan Abman - to counteract the height of Celina Carrero's mark - and Dana Lytle and Alex Lambert to give UB a little more speed. At 45 minutes UB had the game exactly where they've had it so many times this year: with a lead and the opportunity to lock everything down in the second.
I'll spoil it for you: only two teams have erased halftime deficits against UB this year, and Miami wasn't one of them. The first fifteen minutes were all UB: one of those stretches where the Bulls midfield and backline barely let the ball pass midfield. Katie Roberts added an insurance goal at 51 minutes, just moments after Celina Carrero - who did literally everything on offense today except put the ball in the net - missed to the left on a breakaway. Over the next twenty Buffalo probably had a half-dozen golden chances for a third goal.
Suddenly, Miami got very, very dangerous on the counter, enjoying two or three odd-man rushes in the span of six minutes or so, as well as a few free kicks and corners. Whether it was Sophie Therien making it look effortless, Jackie Hall or Courtney Mann body-ing Redhawks off the ball, or the excellent angles and footwork of Kristin Markiewicz and Angel Hart, though, none of Miami's chances were as dangerous as Ball State's on Friday, despite the visitors enjoying the run of play.
A number of second-half subs stepped in and helped UB flip the momentum to comfortably finish off the game. Andrea Niper, who had the hockey assist on UB's first goal Friday, and Rachel Cook were both excellent defensively and calm in clearances in the final twenty minutes, while Kassidy Kidd and Celina Carrero had a half dozen chances to really ice the game away in the final ten.
UB has listed the crowd at 329, but I think it was more like 400. All 400 counted down the final ten seconds as the Bulls celebrated on the field, and the cheers would rival those of yesterday's tepid football crowd. It was a tremendous, tremendous atmosphere.
With the win UB is now 8-0-2 in the MAC and has clinched the #1 seed in the MAC Tournament, which will begin next Sunday with a home quarterfinal game.
The number of records set and records currently within reach are too many for me not to devote a standalone post, so that's coming, but I'll give you two now: Laura Dougall is now the single-season UB record holder in shutouts, with 11, and with a shutout Thursday against Akron UB as a team can not only set a single season record with 13, they would finish the season with the second-fewest goals allowed in MAC play in conference history. Not too shabby.
The ladies will next play Thursday afternoon, hosting Akron at 3:00 PM at UB Stadium to close out the regular season. For playoff standings and games that matter, it's not inconsequential, but for an undefeated MAC season and a number of possible records, I'd really like a strong showing.