A year ago, our big question surrounding Women's Soccer was the future of the goaltending position. Sure, the program was under new management in first-time coach Shawn Burke, but Burke had been an assistant with the team previously.
Meanwhile, the departed goaltender, Ainsley Wheldon, left UB in the top five of every goaltending category thanks to a stunning 2011 season that saw Buffalo single-season records in shutouts and minutes played, and Division 1-era records in wins and GAA. Wheldon's predecessor, Amy Coron, likewise sits in UB's top five all-time in every goaltending stat.
It didn't take long for Laura Dougall to establish herself as next in line. The freshman from Pickering, Ontario opened her career with twin shutouts of regional rivals St. Bonaventure and Canisius, only to follow up that start with three more shutouts over the next fortnight. When Virginia Tech scored on Ashley Evans - Dougall was out due to a concussion suffered against Niagara - the final tally was a season-opening shutout streak of 493 minutes, the longest in program history.
By season's end Dougall had set new program records in wins (16), shutouts (13), and minutes played (1985:24), and bettered Wheldon's D1-era GAA mark (.54). On the UB career books she's already fifth in shutouts, tied for seventh in wins, and holding down the top spot (with a long way to go) in GAA.
All of this is to say that Laura is rather good. She benefited to some degree from the defense in front of her - forced to make only 84 saves - but that's also partly a product of her era; the MAC was once a much faster and higher-scoring league. In 2015 it's likely that UB, with six returning outfield starters, will once again feature a stingy defense. I don't know what to expect stat-wise, but it's almost certain that Dougall will move into third all-time in shutouts and wins at UB.
Within the actual run of play, Dougall is the tallest player in the conference - one of only three that hit six feet - and can easily get above the crowds on set pieces to eliminate the threat of headers. She didn't often need to stop point-blank shots in one-on-one situations in 2014, but rarely failed when called upon.
Most impressively, she makes quick decisions and thanks to her height rarely misses a loose ball once she decides to go for it. Some of UB's most memorable goals last year came on set pieces where the ball rattled around close to the net until someone poked it in, but the Bulls surrendered almost none of that nature themselves.
In the offseason, Laura was named First Team All-MAC, MAC All-Freshman Team, MAC Freshman of the Year, Second Team NCSAA All-Great Lakes Region. TopDrawerSoccer put her at #50 among the nation's top freshman, and she was honored by the city council in her hometown of Pickering, Ontario.
I've usually been finishing these pieces with a sense of how folks will fit into the lineup in 2015. There's no ambiguity here: Laura Dougall will start, play most - if not all - of the season, and lock down the defense for UB.