UB's 2014 Women's Soccer team has well exceeded previous program highs and established itself as one of the finest teams between the whistles that UB has seen in the MAC, regardless of sport. But the most outstanding moment in program history didn't come between the whistles.
I'm billing this as 'The Biggest UB Story You Don't Know' in part because I only discovered it last week while digging into the record books for this post detailing the current team's numerical success. But on 5 November 2002 I was in the seventh grade and UB Athletics wasn't really on my radar, so maybe I'm underestimating the scope of coverage at the time, or your memory, or both.
Even if I am, it deserves a wider audience than it gets nowadays, twelve years later.
In 2002 the UB Women's Soccer program finished its fifth season in the MAC, advancing to the conference tournament for the fifth consecutive year under Head Coach Jean-A. Tassy. The finest Bulls team of this era reached the conference semifinal in 2000 before falling to Toledo, but the 2002 edition had a sub-.500 season record for the first time in six years, and in the tournament was coming off a lopsided 7-0 loss a year prior, a defeat at the hands of Miami that still has a number of prominent spots in the MAC record books.
UB would make the postseason again in 2003 before a seven-year absence, and upon their return in 2011 would win for only the second time in seven conference tournaments. Among those seven losses were two double-overtime quarterfinal defeats: in 1999 to Ohio, and 2002 to Bowling Green.
Twelve years ago today Buffalo and the rest of the MAC began quarterfinal play in the 2002 MAC Tournament. At the end of the day Miami, Ohio, and Ball State had claimed victories and semifinal berths, but soccer had stopped in northwest Ohio. Page 37 of the UB Information Guide shows that the game was played and completed on 6 November.
The delay was for tragic reasons: The quarterfinal match started as planned, but came to a stop just minutes after the opening whistle when Bowling Green freshman Leslie Dawley collapsed while running. She had been heading towards her own net in defense, but never got there, falling mid-stride.
The referee blew play dead before the ball crossed the sideline, but Dawley was already on the turf without a pulse. Trainers immediately rushed onto the field and the freshman was transported by ambulance to a hospital before being pronounced dead.
After the game, Leslie's roommate shared that Dawley had lost her prescription inhaler and had been using Primatene Mist, an over-the-counter inhaler, as a substitute. Leslie had suffered from exercise-aggravated asthma for several years, but the symptoms worsened during the summer between high school and college.
As a substitute for prescription medicine, Primatene is inadequate and intended only as an extremely short-term option. News reports at the time noted that it would alleviate asthma symptoms for just 45 minutes to two hours, but could also in some people leave them with tighter airway constriction than before taking the medicine.
The MAC All-Freshman team didn't exist until 2003, but had there been a 2002 edition, Dawley would have been a strong candidate for inclusion: She played in 18 of the Falcons' twenty games, starting five and totaling six assists, including a four-game streak in mid-October.
If the story ended there, it would be no less tragic and no less significant, but truthfully, I wouldn't be writing about it twelve years later. UB would be a footnote to a dark day in Bowling Green memory. Instead, the Falcons listened to the wishes of Dawley's two families - her flesh and blood and her teammates - and opted to resume the playoff game against Buffalo the next day.
And the reason I'm writing today, the reason that after twelve years this game is still memorialized in the team's Information Guide, is because on that next day - twelve years ago tomorrow - the UB team transcended playoffs, transcended a do-or-die game, transcended sports.
There are situations for which there are no manual, no Google. There's no Restarting a Playoff Game Halted Due to Player Death for Dummies guide. Coach Tassy, his captains, and his team could have approached the day in any number of ways, but the route they took could not have been any more compassionate for the grieving Bowling Green community.
I simply quote the description of the events as provided by a number of UB sources:
Prior to the start of the game, UB chose to warm up on an adjacent practice field. The team did not want to disturb the area where Dawley had collapsed less that 20 hours earlier and wanted to give Bowling Green some time to reflect as a team. During player introductions, each UB player handed a single yellow rose to their counterpart, exchanging hugs and tears. Following the introductions, the teams joined hands in a circle in the middle of the field for a moment of silence to honor Dawley.
It goes almost without saying that the game itself was inconsequential - except as a testament to Leslie and the wishes of her two families - but it ended in Bowling Green's favor, when Dawley's classmate Julie Trundle converted a penalty kick in the second overtime for a 2-1 win. It was Bowling Green's first ever home postseason victory.
Following the events of 5 and 6 November, members of the Bowling Green Athletic Department nominated the Buffalo Women's Soccer Team for the Citizenship Through Sports Alliance NCAA Sportsmanship Award.
"Everyone that was involved with the events of November 5th and 6th at Bowling Green State University will not soon forget the character and sportsmanship that was displayed by the University at Buffalo's Women's Soccer Team and Coaching Staff. It is this type of character and sportsmanship that makes collegiate athletics so great. These acts of compassion by the Buffalo players and coaching staff were not lost on the more than 700 fans that filled the stands that day and a number were heard to comment that they had never witnessed such sportsmanship."
The Citizenship Through Sports Alliance seems to be today defunct, but in the early 2000's presented awards to a single recipient from each of its member organizations. Coach Tassy and UB Captain Devon Russell traveled to Lake Buena Vista, FL on June 15, 2003 to receive the award on behalf of the whole team.
In the years following, as it does, life went on. Bowling Green's 2002 edition lost in their next game after defeating Buffalo, but in 2003 advanced to the conference championship and represented the MAC in the NCAA tournament twice after championships in 2004 and 2005 - Dawley's junior and senior years. The Falcons honored Leslie along with the rest of her class on their 16 October Senior Day; fittingly, a 4-0 win over Buffalo in which the Falcons started the game with just ten players on the field.
There's a certain awkward conceit in writing all of this. If not for the beyond-admirable actions of the Buffalo team twelve years ago, it would be wholly inappropriate to step into Bowling Green's space to do an "On this date..." piece. If not for the tragedy of 5 November, nothing remarkable would have happened the next day. But what happened was remarkable, and should be a source of pride for UB fans.
I do not mean to simply find a sad story, but I also do not mean to cheerlead for UB while ignoring the circumstances. They go hand in hand.
Six years ago the UB football team made national headlines and dredged up a story that many UB fans knew, a story that deserved to be heard and celebrated and never forgotten. The 1958 team's stand against that foolishness in the South is one of those stories that raises everything it touches: the program, athletic department, school, and its fans can all celebrate even though the decision and moral stand only came down to a few dozen men.
The actions of the 2002 UB Women's Soccer team should likewise be known to all Bulls fans and elevated as a source of pride, a sign of the goodness of the university we care about and of college sports.
I don't know how well-known the story of 5 and 6 November 2002 is within the team and the program. I know that it lives on in the yearly information guide. But I have an idea of how well-known those days are outside of those realms: not very. For most of you, it's the biggest UB story you don't know.
The 2014 team has surpassed many of the previous program highs set around the turn of the millennium under Coach Tassy, and I have devoted many paragraphs to the stats we can put in the rear-view mirror thanks to this remarkable season.
In the 2002 team and their actions in the season finale, we have something that will never be surpassed by subsequent teams and should never fade into the distance of memory. Here's hoping it doesn't.