UB's Women's Soccer team wrapped up their second consecutive MAC East title Thursday with a road win over Akron that was never really in doubt. As I said in the sidebarred recap, the rest of the conference's final day worked out well for the Bulls as well, too. Buffalo hosts Central Michigan tomorrow at 1:00 PM, having earned a home quarterfinal match for the second consecutive season.
Quickly, since I don't think you'll find one anywhere else on the internet, a preview of the entire conference tournament:
Quarterfinals: Sunday afternoon at higher seeds
#8 Akron at #1 Ball State
Akron sneaks into the tournament thanks to a four-way tie at nine points. I could probably tell you what tiebreakers got them there, but I haven't looked. Northern Illinois was in position to claim this spot with a late 2-1 lead over Western Michigan, but gave up a tying goal at the last second. Ball State, on the other hand, has rolled through this season, controlling possession and dominating nearly every MAC opponent they've seen. The consolation is they've only scored a single goal in each of their last four, and UB's defense is the first MAC team and only second all season to hold them scoreless in regulation, but it wasn't pretty.
The Zips did hold Ball State to a 1-0 scoreline within the last two weeks, but it's hard to see them beating a team that's only been taken to overtime twice and beaten once in-conference.
#7 Toledo at #2 Western Michigan
This game really excites me, and it's a shame I'm already going to be stretched tomorrow afternoon, because I think Toledo has a great shot at the upset. We only had livestats for Buffalo's game against the Broncos, but it seems short of a miscue from Laura Dougall UB's defense handled things without much issue, and since their overtime win over Ball State, WMU has beaten Eastern Michigan and Bowling Green by only a single goal and needed a very late score to salvage a draw against Northern Illinois.
On the other side, Toledo is red-hot. Led by Isa Echeverri, they've scored seven goals in their last three games, all wins after starting the year just 2-6 in the MAC. They played WMU to a near-draw in the regular season, only losing on a Bronco goal in the 85th minute, and are playing better than at any point in the last two seasons.
I don't know if I'd put money on Toledo pulling the upset, especially on the road, but I sure would like to see it and I don't think it'd be a huge surprise given the teams' trajectories to close the season.
#6 Central Michigan at #3 Buffalo
Of the possibilities - Miami, Kent, and CMU - this was in my opinion the best option for the Bulls, and the semifinal possibilities are just as favorable. UB beat Central in an absolute rout just two weeks ago, scoring a pair early and never letting up in a game where they enjoyed at least 65% of the possession.
Since then, Coach Burke has called it the Bulls' best game of the year (I don't disagree), but CMU hasn't exactly stepped up their game, losing to Kent and Toledo while beating a bad Ohio team. The Chips' only good win this MAC season is a 1-0 victory over Miami, and otherwise their best results are narrow losses to WMU, Ball State, and Kent State.
Unlike Toledo, Kent State, and others, they don't have an uber-dangerous attacker or two, and their defense and midfield doesn't maintain possession well.
On the flip side, Buffalo has finished the season winning five of six with the only loss coming in overtime to Ball State. Jackie Hall went down after a collision defending a corner kick against Akron, but returned within five minutes and appears ok. Otherwise, the Bulls are clicking on all cylinders lately, having given up only five goals in the last seven games, four of which came on miscues, brilliant shots, or penalty kicks rather than in the run of play.
#5 Miami at #4 Kent State
This is another exciting one. I made the claim earlier that Western Michigan has struggled lately, but Miami has really struggled to finish the season, winning just once (over Akron) in their final five matches. Going back a weekend further, they failed to to score more than once in a pair of home games against Ohio and Kent. In the span of two and a half weeks they went from having the MAC East wrapped up to falling out of a home quarterfinal.
The RedHawks play a defensively sound style, and held UB without a goal for 106 minutes in Oxford, but have been winning far more thanks to that defense than to their own 1.11 goals per game. Like CMU, they don't have a go-to offensive threat or two, and nine of their ten wins have come on shutouts. When an opponent can score, they're 7-1-0 against Miami.
Unfortunately for the RedHawks, Kent State can score, and they can do it in bunches. They've scored multiple goals in 11 of 19 games this season, and their only loss in the last three weeks came to Toledo, which squandered a chance to pass Buffalo in the standings. They don't prevent goals well; they've allowed three to Ball State and Northern Illinois, and two to CMU and Toledo, but at 2.05 a game, they score more than anyone else. In Jenna Hellstrom and Doni Capehart they've got the top two goalscorers in the conference, and Hellstrom is all but assured of MAC Offensive Player of the Year honors.
#1 Ball State over #8 Akron, 3-0
#2 Western Michigan over #7 Toledo, 2-1 (OT)
#3 Buffalo over #6 Central Michigan, 2-0
#4 Kent State over #5 Miami, 2-1
I know I'm following chalk, and that's not much fun, but there was a clear divide this season between the top five and everyone else. As I said preseason, there was a clear top four this year, and Kent State did well to break into it.
The semifinals and final will be held at the site of the highest remaining seed following the quarterfinals, which is all but certain to be Ball State:
Buffalo over Western Michigan, 1-0
Ball State over Kent State, 2-1
I'll stop there, but don't sleep on Kent State, even as dominant as the Cardinals have been this year. On the other side, appreciate the path in front of the Bulls. Toledo is going to give WMU a fight, and the Broncos are a much better draw for the Bulls than any of the three on the other side (I'm writing off Akron. Sorry.)
The quarterfinals are today at 1:00.