If you’re trying to gauge expectations for Women’s Soccer this year after two straight MAC East titles, but also two years of heavy losses to graduation, look no further than the MAC Coaches Poll, which still shows the program plenty of respect. Kent State’s got the flash and Miami the longer run of dependability, but UB should be in the mix for a opening round home match in the MAC Tournament
Names to Know
Laura Dougall, Jr G
While Dougall had a slight statistical drop off from her historic freshman season, she further cemented herself as the best goalie in UB history. She currently holds the career and single season records for several statistical categories including GAA, shutouts and wins. The back line playing in front of her will be the least experienced that she’s had during her entire career so playing at the top of her game will be paramount to the team’s success.
Andrea Niper, Sr M
If you follow the blog throughout the fall you’ll be hearing the phrase “Let Andrea Niper loose in the middle and let her destroy people” quite often. She started last season at centerback, opposite All-American Jackie Hall but found her place as a defensive midfielder for the latter part of the season, finishing with two goals. Niper is one of the senior leaders on the team, and while she may not light the scoreboard up her defensive presence will be invaluable, especially as the midfield is perhaps the most stable unit in the formation for the Bulls, and Niper’s place in particular can take heat off a young back line.
Celina Carrero, Sr F
The other senior leader of the team, Carrero is looking to bounce back from a down-on-her-luck junior season. Coming off of a sophomore campaign that saw her score six goals and notch seven assists, many were expecting that she would step forward and fill the gap left by Katie Roberts’ graduation. However, Carrero’s offense comes in a different style than Roberts, and the junior was snakebit all year, finishing with three goals and six assists. Look for Carrero to get back to being a dynamic force along the UB front line paired with speedster Carissima Cutrona for a serious creative mismatch for opposing defenses, especially if she can time her runs more accurately and avoid offside calls.
Julia Benati, Jr M
One of the steadiest presences on the field since her freshman season in 2014, Benati has been a consistent and dangerous offensive force in the midfield for Coach Burke. Simply put, Benati makes things happen. Benati is a hawk for loose balls, makes decisions quickly once she gains possession, and maintains that high energy through the whole game, a winning combination that will only get better. Never mind that she’s got one of the best long-range shots on the team.
A position change was all that Jackie Hall needed to be one of the most destructive players on any backline in the MAC, and in her first season at centerback she accomplished history, becoming UB’s first ever All-American. Hall’s move to the backline made Laura Dougall’s job easier while not losing any of her own offensive prowess, scoring four goals in 2014. Losing any centerback would be tough, but Hall’s shoes are certainly some of the biggest left to fill from graduation and her presence will be missed.
Another beneficiary from a position change, Kassidy Kidd ended her senior season with one of the greatest stretches of games in UB history, scoring five goals in a three-game stretch. Kidd led the team in scoring with six goals and six assists after only scoring two goals and five assists in her career up until her senior season. Kidd’s offensive dominance came after a string of bad luck in which it seemed like the ball had a magnet for the crossbar every time she took a shot. However, Kidd ended her career on the All-MAC First team for her efforts.
Another steady and reliable presence in both the defensive midfield and backline for all four years. Markiewicz, like her counterpart Andrea Niper, was never one to light up the scoreboard with flashy statistics, but provided a strong defensive presence that was rarely subbed out, often playing 75+ minutes per game. Her career bridged the transition from Ainsley Wheldon to Laura Dougall in net. Markiewicz also rarely missed a start, starting in 76 of a possible 80 games across her collegiate career.
Gurjeena Jandu, D
Jandu comes to UB from one of the top club teams in Ontario, where her team had nine players heading to Division I on scholarship. Jandu is used to playing with and against elite talent and will look to fill the spot left open by Jackie Hall’s graduation at centerback. Jandu started the first exhibition match against Cleveland State and showed that she can score like Hall, finding the net off of a set piece. Jandu will likely be one of the impact freshmen along the backline.
Adrianna VanCuyck, D/M
VanCuyck is an interesting pick this year, a talented scorer in high school who finds herself showing off versatility in the back half of the formation. The Cleveland State scrimmage found Adrianna on the back line, where a responsible decision maker with an eye for offensive creativity can thrive, as we saw with Bri Shingary last season. We’re only going off that scrimmage, but Coach Burke hasn’t been one to mix that up in years past.
Carley Zoccali, M
Zoccali was to us the biggest freshman surprise in the Cleveland State scrimmage, starting in the midfield and showing that she deserved the spot when she potted UB’s fourth goal late in the game - in fact the only from the run of play for the Bulls. We’ll see more of what Zoccali can bring with time, but a high-motor player who can create and capitalize on turnovers in the midfield can play a huge role in Burke’s system.
There was a bit of revisionist history last year when the Bulls didn’t come out firing - 2014 didn’t start at championship caliber, either - but between Celina Carrero, Kassidy Kidd, and the whole team against Bonaventure and Niagara, it took a while to put the offensive game together. UB’s offense could be better than either of the last two years with a little bit of luck and improved finishing
We promise we’re not overhyping Andrea Niper’s role because of a memorable MAC Tournament goal. Her spot at holding midfield will be critical for UB’s defensive efforts. Looking backward, she should help a back line that almost certainly needs more time to gel by eliminating offensive options and making things simpler for her teammates. Looking forward, she should help the midfield return to 2014 form in generating loose balls and turnovers and quickly turning them into offensive pressure.
Someone who we’re not even talking about yet will play a big role. It’s happened each of the last two years, even beyond our reasonably confident guesses as to the impact freshmen. Look for a 2015 starter like Moira Petrie or a sub like Rebecca Bramble to find a key and consistent role that becomes invaluable for UB by mid-September.
The early season schedule is brutal as the women will face West Virginia and Hofstra in their first two matches of the season. Both are coming off of NCAA Tournament appearances, where each collected a win. Even though West Virginia will be without Canadian Olympians Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence, it will still be a good measuring stick to see where the new-look Bulls are.
The rest of the out of conference slate features a home bout against St. Bonaventure that will be another measuring stick for the progress of the team after the Bonnies upset UB 2-0 last season. Home matches against Navy, Canisius and Brown as well as road trips to Binghamton and Syracuse round out the out of conference action.
MAC play starts with two road matches against two of the MAC favorites in Ball State and Miami before returning home. A second difficult road trip looms in early-mid October, when UB visits Kent State and Western Michigan. If UB finds results in two of those tough matches and takes care of business at home — remember, this is a year the Bulls get six home matches and five road — they should be in the mix for a home game in the MAC Tournament.
This is a real interesting year for the Bulls. It’s hard to say they’ve regressed that much from 2015, but others at the top of the MAC are in slightly better situations: Ball State returns a huge chunk of last year’s dominant team; Miami and Western Michigan should be strong once again; and Kent State is a legitimate title contender in Jenna Hellstrom’s senior year after a breakthrough 2015.
It’s also clear, however, that the program is built for long-term stability. The starting lineup will feature multiple names from each class, and any success this year will only serve as a foundation for what should be a really big year in 2017.
Before then, though, look for the Bulls to capitalize on a ton of offensive talent, an all-time great in net, and a somewhat favorable MAC schedule to put together another winning season.