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Weekend Preview: Women's Soccer starts MAC play against Ohio, Kent State

Matt Gritzmacher

2-2-1 in September feels about right for the last few weeks of Women's Soccer, which has put forward two excellent defensive performances against top-level competition but found mixed results against eminently beatable local rivals. Still, at 4-3-1 on the year they've only really disappointed if you've been expecting a letter-for-letter repeat of 2014.

That inconsistency needs to end now. And not just because you or I might be impatient, but because UB's MAC schedule, which starts Friday, is a gauntlet compared to last year. First, there's only five home MAC games this year compared to six in 2014, since each team only plays every other once. Second, consider that among the conference's top teams, Buffalo caught Miami, Ball State, Western and Eastern Michigan in UB Stadium last year. The Bulls must now visit all of them among six road games. You could not construct a more difficult schedule for UB's title defense.

Even worse, two of those five home games are this weekend, leaving a ridiculous month of October that sees just three road games sandwiched among six road games. It's hard to consider these must-wins considering even inconsistent UB is still (in my opinion) clearly among the four-deep upper echelon of the conference, but given this schedule, all five MAC home games are pretty close to must-win.

Ohio (2-5-0, 0-0 MAC)

Friday, 25 September; 7:00 PM 
UB Stadium

All-time series: Ohio, 9-8-0
Last Meeting: Buffalo, 1-0 (2OT); 28 September 2014
2015 Common Opponents: The MAC
Streams: UB's usual UStream option.
Live Stats: Buffalo-provided, as well.

Bobcats Player to Watch: Freshman GK Taylor Smith

Ohio had zero All-MAC honorees last year among any of the three teams. Ohio is averaging just a single goal per game. Ohio has already rotated to their third goalie after each of the first two were allowing more than 2.5 goals a game.

It's that third goalie, though, who gives me a slight bit of pause. Smith has played the last two games, shutting out Robert Morris and making six saves, all in the second half, against Xavier. Neither of those teams are very good, but they're the Bobcats' first two wins.

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Goalie can't be the only shift for the Bobcats, who only scored two goals in their first five games before potting five in the last two. That said, they're still not very good. The only thing they do well is put a high percentage of their shots - more than half - on net. It will be important for UB to score in the first half; against Xavier the Bobcats bunkered down with a 1-0 lead, scored a bit against the run of play to go up 2-0, and then survived, and of course last year UB couldn't pop a goal in and got caught in a prizefight until Katie Roberts ended it.

Kent State (4-2-2, 0-0 MAC)

Sunday, 27 September; 12:00 PM 
UB Stadium

All-time series: Kent leads 9-8-1
Last Meeting: Buffalo, 2-0; 26 September 2014
2015 Common Opponents: The MAC
Streams: UB's feed, hooray
Live Stats: You know the drill here by now

Golden Flashes Player to Watch: Junior F Jenna Hellstrom and Freshman GK Ashleah McDonald

Hellstrom was First Team All-MAC last year, and has come out flying with 6 goals and 6 assists in Kent's eight nonconference games. Two goals and two assists came against an obviously overmatched Bryant team, but four and four over the rest of the season is still more than any two of UB's players combined.

McDonald has displaced Grand Island native Stephanie Senn in net despite Senn's stronger-than-it-looked junior year in 2014, and is currently leading the conference in both GAA and Save Percentage, though she hasn't faced too many shots on goal and only has one shutout.

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Kent State is all of a sudden pretty good looking? UB had little trouble with them in 2014, scoring twice early and settling in, but now the Golden Flashes are a high-scoring team with yet another MAC freshman goalie standout and decent results against a more than decent schedule, including a 2-2 tie against Louisville and a 1-0 loss to Maryland.

UB has an advantage playing at home, and despite the grumbly-ness of the Niagara tie, are on a pretty good 2-1-1 run with the loss being perhaps the best-played game of the four. As mentioned above, Kent only has a single shutout on the year, and beyond that, plays a pretty wide-open game; they're third in the MAC in shots taken and second in saves made.

However, Hellstrom was plenty good last year, too, and was limited to only two shots against Buffalo. Given that UB leads the conference in corner kicks even after literally zero offense against West Virginia, and has one of the three best defensive backlines in the MAC, I'm inclined to give them the edge.