As wake up calls go, today's UB Women's Soccer game versus Akron to close out the regular season was a big one that ended well. The Zips capitalized on a few minutes of early pressure to open the scoring just five minutes in, the second time in three games that UB has surrendered a first-half goal.
Through much of the first half the Bulls looked wildly different from the team that rolled through Ball State in the second half last Friday and made Miami look pedestrian for 90 minutes four days ago. While Akron wasn't getting many high-quality chances, they were allowed to possess the ball longer in the midfield than any UB opponent I've seen all year.
Meanwhile, the Bulls in the first half were 45 minutes of messy: clearances to no one after gaining possession in the defensive third, poor connections in the midfield, and a never-ending stream of offsides flags in attack.
UB's normal bread and butter - a strong connection between defenders Angel Hart and Kristin Markiewicz and wingers Julia Benati and Kassidy Kidd, with help from midfielders and forwards to build up the sidelines, couldn't get anything going for any stretch of time. Failing to work up the wings, through twenty minutes the Bulls had been called for five offsides but had also broken uncharacteristically through the middle a number of times.
In addition to the offsides calls, Celina Carrero et al were through four or five times, only for the lead pass to be a little too strong. These chances, though, never really switched the momentum, and UB continued to struggle up and down the field. When Shawn Burke's normal subs failed to spark anything, he sent in more, and by the end of the half only five starters - goalie Laura Dougall one of them - were still on the field.
Six days ago UB trailed at the half, and came out of the break on a mission, blitzkrieging Ball State, who was lucky to force overtime that night. Today, the Buffalo response wasn't as strong, but it got the job done. Julia Benati and Celina Carrero got more action and space up the left side, and UB got more shots off, several of them testing the Akron goalie.
In the 55th minute sophomore Kassidy Kidd broke through. This team usually works the ball to the side and then sets themselves up for crosses or dribbling into the middle for a shot, but Kidd broke into space more in the middle and hit a rocket from about 25 or 30 yards out that made it to the back of the net.
Through the last half hour of regulation, it was more of the same: UB had found some mojo but couldn't dominate the Zips like other teams this year as the sloppiness and loose defense continued. Akron built for about fifteen minutes until their best chance was waved offsides, and UB's answer came moments later when Benati found Carrero inexplicably open in the box, and Celina's shot prompted the finest save I've seen at UB Stadium all year to keep things tied.
Benati in the second half was really the primary driver of the UB offense. I think it was her best half of the year, even though she's got three goals, is top ten in the MAC in points, and is nearly a shoo-in for the MAC All-freshman team. She was unlucky not to score herself or get an assist on any of Carrero's chances.
Near the end of regulation Kidd got a look that was pretty similar to the run up on her goal, but she and the defender fell down as they entered the box and nothing came out of it. Overtime was better for the Bulls, though. UB controlled the period on a number of further chances from Benati and Kidd.
The second overtime didn't last long: just a few minutes in midfield sub Rachel Cook - who had a strong game on the right sub in her time subbing for Kidd - chased down a through ball and turned it into a corner. Benati took the set piece, which at some point between the corner and Jackie Hall hit the top of the crossbar without going out and also made its way to Celina Carrero, who got the primary assist on Hall's second goal and second gamewinner of the season.
Both goalscorers for UB connected for their second of the year, and UB's victory gives them an 8-0-1 mark at home - tying the program record for fewest home losses - and a 9-0-2 record in the MAC, good for first place, the number one overall seed in the conference tournament, and UB's first team, across all sports, to run through a MAC season undefeated.*
*Women's soccer made it through in 2000 with just a single loss, and Kathy Twist's women's tennis team had a 7-1 year in the mid-2000s. Otherwise no one is close.
Akron finishes the season with the worst record in the conference, but also took the top two teams to double overtime in their last three matches. Functionally, this game is hopefully an eye-opener for the Bulls. The team than ran over Ball State and Miami will win the MAC. The team that played today won't.
But better today than Sunday or in subsequent rounds. Better a win today than a tie or loss. Better remembering that even on an off day, UB pulled out a win, and moving to Sunday at 1 PM poised to grab Toledo by the horns and reproducing that 3-0 win from just a week and a half ago.