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Weekend Preview: Buffalo Women's Soccer takes on pair of NCAA Tournament teams in Hofstra, #6 West Virginia

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Matt Gritzmacher

UB Athletics gameday is finally here, and it begins as it always does with Women's Soccer kicking off the 2016-2017 year. Head Coach Shawn Burke has scheduled against top-ten competition in each of his first two seasons, and UB will get that match out of the way early this year when they face #6 West Virginia on Sunday. Today, they'll face another 2015 NCAA Tournament team in Hofstra at 5:00 PM.

Hofstra - Friday 8/19 at 5:00 PM

First things first: Penn State will provide video of this game at this link. Watch it!

It would be easy to focus on West Virginia, remembering UB's valiant performance last year against the Mountaineers, but Hofstra today will be a tough test for the Bulls as well. The Pride were 13-6-2 last year, not only making the NCAA Tournament, but winning a first round game before falling to the Rutgers buzzsaw. They've been a perennial factor in the CAA Tournament and haven't had fewer than ten wins in a season since 2006.

Hofstra graduated their all-time leader in points last year, but returns an All-CAA senior in Jill Mulholland and their 2015 leader in assists in Kristin Desmond. Unlike UB, the Pride has remarkable stability on defense coming into the season, returning two players in Madeline Anderson and Emily Agudelo who were both named Preseason All-CAA and starting two juniors in Rhain Cleverly and Kelly Gerdes. In goal, UB will likely face off against Friederike Mehring, who has been Hofstra's starter for three seasons but apparently has not totally locked down the starting spot again this year.

Hofstra is a talented program working on a long period of success and returning a strong defensive unit and a few big names on offense. I'll be looking for UB to play their game for at least extended periods. The set piece strength we saw in the exhibition against Cleveland State could come in handy, as well.

#6 West Virginia - Sunday 8/21 at 12:00 Noon

Penn State will ALSO provide a stream for this one. Watch it!

There's no getting around it: West Virginia is a world-beater, and tonight's match between the Mountaineers and the reigning national champions is going to be AWESOME. (UB will not face #2 Penn State this weekend.)

West Virginia is a world-beater even without Canadian National Teamers and Hermann Trophy Watch Listers Ashley Lawrence and Kadeisha Buchanan, who are playing for a bronze medal today in Rio and not opening their season in Pennsylvania. In last season's 1-0 loss to the then-#7 Mountaineers, UB buckled down from the very beginning, playing almost a 4-5-1 formation that may have well been a 9-1-0, and stymieing WVU. Laura Dougall made 10 saves on 41 Mountaineer shots, and the Bulls only lost on an own goal in the 97th minute.

In the absence of Buchanan and Lawrence, keep an eye especially on forward Michaela Abam and midfielder Carla Portillo. Both were named Preseason All-Big 12, joining the Olympians. Abam in particular may be looking to break through after taking a ridiculous 10 shots against UB last year, forcing Laura Dougall to make four saves, and scoring none.

UB's impressive showing last year came thanks to a well-organized and disciplined defense. Unfortunately, some of the standouts from that game in particular - Markiewicz, Hall, and Shingary - are no longer on the team, and this is the first game of the season. Defense has always been a strength of Coach Burke's, and if the lineup holds steady from the Cleveland State exhibition, this will be one hell of a test for the two freshmen on the back line.

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I am literally publishing this post and going to the rental car to drive to State College. Follow @ubbullrun on Twitter and watch this page later this evening for full coverage. Go Bulls!