Bulls' Season Ends With 3-1 Loss in Semifinals
TOLEDO, OH - Despite taking an early 1-0 lead Friday morning against top-seeded Toledo, the Buffalo women's soccer team could not keep the Rockets at bay, falling 3-1 in the Mid-American Conference semifinal round. The loss marks the end of a dream season in which the team improved by leaps and bounds in the win column and set numerous program marks in the process.
"This season was just a really fun ride, starting from where we started and piece by piece everybody contributed," said head coach Michael Thomas. "I couldn't be prouder of the girls and happier with the season as a whole."
Despite early and often pressure from Toledo, it was Buffalo that was able to draw first blood, thanks to a great individual effort from a source who has been on point all season.
Freshman forward Katie Roberts took a pass from Courtney Mann and took on a solo defender, beating her inside before hauling off an incredible shot to the back post, beating the goalie high in the 16th minute. It was her seventh goal of the season, extending her team lead.
"I don't even know how to describe that goal," said Thomas." She hit really an unsaveable shot that, at least in the short term, changed the complexion of the game right there."
The Rockets, though, certainly did not relent, maintaining an attack that made them the top scoring team in the conference and an attack that generated a conference playoff record eight goals in the opening round against Ohio. Thanks to seven corner kicks in the first 45 minutes alone, Toledo was able to piece together numerous quality chances. The equalizing goal from the home team came in the 26th minute thanks to a through pass into the box that was played low and to the right.
"I think Toledo is the most dangerous team in the conference on set pieces and I thought we did a tremendous job of defending them, but all credit goes to Toledo, they have some dangerous players and they scored some great goals today," Thomas said.
The second goal for the Rockets was a heartbreaking one for the UB defense. After winning a tackle under pressure, the ball was played back to goalie Ainsley Wheldon for a one-time kick to clear it away. A Toledo forward pressured the kick and deflected it to Rocket attacker Rachel MacLeod. The recently named MAC offensive player of the year took the ball and immediately took the shot from around 20 yards out, beating Wheldon who was still retreating back to goal after her attempted clear to take a 2-1 lead just over three minutes into the second half. Just afterwards, the Rockets added another goal on a flawless solo effort that beat Wheldon to the high left corner of the net to ice it.
The loss ends the team's season with a record of 12-5-4 (4-3-4 MAC). It also marks the end of Aubrey Stahl, Danielle Turner and Cathryn Hilliard's playing careers at UB. The trio has enjoyed the best turnaround of any Division I team in women's soccer this season and will leave on a high note that no team had achieved since the program's last trip to the MAC semifinals in 2000.
"Obviously these seniors have been players that have turned this program around, and you have to have a lot of respect for them for that," Thomas said. "It's something that we need to remember, with their accomplishments and their contributions, so that we never take a step back from those sacrifices that they made to get us to this point."
With the season officially over, the team will hit the offseason with a resolve that couldn't be higher. Returning will be nearly every starter and a talented underclassmen group that has helped move the team to the right path. Thomas is excited for the upcoming offseason and the chance to train and improve.
"We're going to get to work. We have a young team so we've got an opportunity to work with what will be the majority of our team for next year," Thomas said. "We're extremely pleased with this season and the amount of effort, but we need to get better so that we can play even deeper next year."