BUFFALO, NY - It will be exactly one year ago tomorrow when Buffalo was beaten 7-1 on the final day of the regular season by Kent State. Thursday afternoon at UB Stadium, the scene couldn't be more different. With a playoff berth on the line and an 11-win regular season just 90 minutes away, the women's soccer team took care of business and earned a bit of redemption in the process, defeating the Golden Flashes 1-0 and clinching the fifth seed in the upcoming Mid-American Conference Tournament. It will be the team's first postseason game since 2003.
"Obviously it's a big win but you but you never want to be satisfied with anything other than winning the conference," said head coach Michael Thomas. "But when there's been a drought like we've had, and we felt like we've fought uphill for most of this season, I'm so proud of the girls for coming out and getting it done."
The numbers are hard to believe – with it's win to finish the regular season 11-4-4, the Bulls have won ten more games than last season and matched win total that, fittingly, had not been reached since the team's last MAC tournament appearance in 2003. After earning a few good looks on offense in the first part of the game, UB finally found gold in the 36th minute thanks to a pair of freshman playmakers.
Freshman Jackie Hall won a tough tackle in the midfield and played the ball to the left side to classmate Katie Roberts, who had to dribble through two tough tackles before finding an opening and burying her shot in the lower right corner of the net for her team-leading six goal of the season.
"I wouldn't have any goals if wasn't for my team," Roberts said. "All of my goals have pretty much through balls so they're all getting the ball to me - I just had to finish them."
Coach Thomas added to that, marveling at the fast chemistry between the talented freshman class and their battle-tested teammates.
"This year has been awesome because it has been such a team effort. You saw senior Aubrey Stahl score the game-winning goal on Sunday, and if she hadn't done that Katie's goal today wouldn't have mattered," Thomas said. "What the freshman have come into and to compete at the level they've competed at right away is really a testament to what they wanted to do, and it's a testament to the upper classmen bringing them along."
The second half saw a renewed attack from the Golden Flashes, but like so many times this season, the Buffalo defense and goalie Ainsley Wheldon were there to snuff out any quality chances. After a quiet first half aside from a potential breakaway she broke up, Wheldon was pressured throughout the final 45 minutes but made five saves (of her six total) in the second half. The shutout was her tenth of the season, extending her program mark for clean sheets in a single season.
"Everyone else was doing their part winning tackles and putting the ball in the back of the net, it was just time to do my job and that's what I did," Wheldon said. "The defense's mentality is to keep the ball out of the net. Last season we had a lot of goals against and we had to step it up. (The defense's) mentality is to win everything, and I'm there when they don't."
The team will have little time to dwell on its success, as a trip to Kent State lies ahead. After already locking up the fourth overall seed and winning the MAC East division coming into today, the Golden Flashes will play host to the rematch. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 pm this Sunday, with the winner moving on to play the winner of the #1 Toledo/ #8 Ohio match on Friday Nov. 4.