KENT, OH - The Buffalo women's soccer team has been on a wild ride through Mid-American Conference play in the month of October. In the span of one week and a pair of games, the Bulls have gone from the brink of missing the playoffs to sitting just one game away from playing in the MAC title game after downing Kent State 2-1 Sunday afternoon on the road.
"It's a tremendous accomplishment to come to Kent State and beat them on their field," head coach Michael Thomas said. "The game was a battle - Kent State has a great young team - and at the end of the day we came out on the better side of the score."
After beating Kent State (12-8) on Thurday to earn the fifth seed in the conference tournament, the Bulls (12-4-4) packed up and hit the road to face the Flashes again. Only this time, the loser would see its season end. The Bulls struck the first blow in the 41st minute, as Stephanie Velez found Aubrey Stahl on a cross that the senior headed home for her fifth goal of the season, all coming in conference play.
"We don't throw out the phrase 'raising your game' very lightly, and I think watching Aubrey Stahl in conference play has been the definition of someone who has raised their game," Thomas said. "Aubrey scored with her head, which isn't her strong suit, so she was way out of her comfort zone to score that goal and I couldn't be prouder of her."
Coming out of the half, the two teams found themselves in a dogfight, culminating in a wild series of events soon after the open of the second period. Kent State scored on a free kick from 22 yards out that glanced off of Ainsley Wheldon's gloves to knot the score up at 1-1 in the 52nd minute, but straight off the ensuing restart, Buffalo went on the attack. Taylor Thompson took the ball herself and placed a nifty shot from the left side the beat the goalie to the far post for her fourth goal of the season just 28 second later.
"Taylor's goal was maybe the best individual effort we've had all year," Thomas said. "The ball came into her and she managed to juggle the ball over the first defender, settle it and then finish it to the far corner. It was one of the better individual goals I've seen in a long, long time."
The team missed a possible goal to ice the game in the 63rd minute, as Courtney Mann took a shot that eluded the goalie but was swept away by the Kent State defense, robbing the hard-working midfielder of what would have been her first career goal.
Wheldon battled a physical offense back all day, suffering numerous bumps and bruises in the box before finishing with five saves, with her defense making one of their own to save a goal in the 19th minute. With her effort, Wheldon now owns another Buffalo record with the most minutes played in a single season (1844:45) and also enters the top five for most saves in a single season (with 137).
With the win, Buffalo makes its first trip to the conference semifinals since 2000, when it beat Toledo 2-0. In order to make its first ever title appearance, it will need to find that same magic again this coming Friday as it will travel to Toledo to face the mighty Rockets. As the regular-season champions, Toledo earned the number one seed in the tournament and posted an impressive 8-0 win over Ohio Sunday. In the team's previous meeting this season, Toledo won 2-0 over UB at Toledo. Kickoff is yet to be determined, be sure to check BuffaloBulls.com through the week for an official time.