As the quality of girls youth soccer development has risen in the Buffalo area over the last five to 10 years, local college programs have begun to feel the benefit. Look no farther than Daemen College, who jumped from NAIA to NCAA Division II officially in 2013.
Although Wildcats head coach Dan Dolan has supplemented his roster with players outside the area, Daemen's two team leaders - sophomore forward Jamie Boyar and junior defender Monique Green, former teammates at Williamsville South and alums of Empire United (among others) - are prime examples of adept college players produced right here in Buffalo.
"It's improved a ton, just in 10 years," said Dolan of the talent coming out of Western New York. "With the Flash coming on board, and Empire, then the other premier groups, there's more kids getting soccer skills.
"A lot of times [before] it was Buffalo Premier and that's it. There's a bigger pool to choose from and I think it's helping area [college] teams as well. It's trying to keep those girls here; the really good players are being seen and I don't think they were being seen a few years back."
While the cream of the area's crop headed for Ohio State, Florida State or West Virginia, Boyar and Green - quality players in the next tier - committed close to home, eager to boost the profile of a hometown program.
"We want to wear the Daemen name well and make it further than any Daemen team has," Boyar said proudly.
The Wildcats (6-5-1 overall, 2-3 in East Coast Conference) are now in the thick of their conference slate, with an 11 a.m. match Oct. 14 against Bridgeport a true chance to threaten for the postseason.
Here are five things to know about Daemen women's soccer:
*PROGRESS: While Daemen's postseason hopes seem faint this year, the side's six wins already mark an improvement over the last campaign, where the Wildcats stumbled to a 4-10-2 overall record, 1-6-1 in the East Coast Conference.
Although she produced at a strong rate in her first year with the program - posting six goals and four assists - Boyar admitted the program's difficulties in 2016, but quickly contrasted those struggles with the greater sense of urgency this fall.
"Last year was extremely rough," Boyar said following a 2-1 non-conference loss to Mercyhurst on Oct. 10, "but this year from the beginning it was 'Go, go, go, we need to do this, we need to do that.'"
It might sound cliche, but a bigger roster has fostered a greater competitive spirit among the Wildcats; newcomers immediately jockey for playing time, and Dolan has shown trust in first-year players, starting as many as seven in a match.
"We brought in so many fresh people and they're just ready to go," Boyar commented. "In practice it's so much more competitive and we're pushing each other, and everyone has bought into the program this year."
*FINDING A STYLE: Buying in to a style of play has made Daemen dangerous, as the Wildcats concentrate on defending first and then breaking out on the counter. The style suits Boyar, a fierce attacker who's deadly in odd-man rushes and when taking defenders on at speed, and offers protection to Green, the chief ball-winner and anchor of the back line.
"A lot of our game has been more on the counter," Dolan described. "Usually our line of confrontation is a little bit higher [than vs. Mercyhurst]. But we've been a little compact, and as soon as we win [the ball], we can knock it, build and then possess, or we can counter. Against teams that have been playing a high line, [Boyar] has been gone."
The defend-first philosophy has kept Daemen competitive in matches against the ECC's top sides. An 86th-minute goal doomed Daemen against first-place Mercy College, and two penalty kicks after the 83rd minute sunk the Wildcats against New York Institute of Technology.
Daemen is built to grind out results, not for aesthetically pleasing soccer. There's not much in the way of tidy possession or flair in the midfield, just hard workers who won't shy away from a 50-50 challenge.
Freshman Sam D'Agostino brings toughness next to Green at center back. Fullback Kayla Goeddertz covers acres of ground on the wing, winning defensive challenges with power and recovering quickly if she's beaten. Lindsay Ciaramella, who was outstanding for stretches against Mercyhurst, drives opposing midfields batty with her hustle and tenacity.
The Wildcats have been better in goal, too, thanks to Daemen's recruiting. Two freshmen, Lewiston Porter alum Katelin White and Seattle, Wash., native Maddie Flores, have split time in goal, with the former earning nine of the 13 starts. Both keepers boast goals against average below 1.50.
*BRILLIANT BOYAR: The sophomore Boyar has popped in seven goals - a whopping five of which have been game winners - added two assists this year, and while she'll deflect praise for her offensive output and responsibility, her teammates aren't shy about giving credit where it's due.
"[Jamie's] the team up front," midfielder Sarah Kenny said flatly. "Just give her the ball and she'll shoot from anywhere and get those hard goals in that no one else can get. She's a really good player up front."
Boyar's second-half goal to beat Roberts Wesleyan is worth watching a few times.
Jamie Boyar shoots the first goal of the game in the 2nd half! Daemen leads 1-0 pic.twitter.com/ySo9uw9FWx
— Daemen Wildcats (@DaemenAthletics) October 4, 2017
*KENNY'S TRAVELS: What takes a player from Perth, Australia to California Baptist University to Daemen College? It's simple, according to newcomer Sarah Kenny.
"Just the love of the game and wanting to travel around and get a different education and a new experience," she said after the loss to Mercyhurst. The Aussie's roster bio, which reads "I also wanted to challenge myself in a completely new environment," is a further testament to her character and sense of adventure.
In cases like Kenny and Spanish starter Celia de Pablo Esteban, Dolan explained why he resorted to reaching outside the confines of Western New York - at least for now.
"We got a bump in money scholarship-wise so we're able to get a California girl, a Spanish girl, a girl from Washington, so we've been looking outside," he said. "Next year's class is full of Flash and Empire players, so it looks like it's starting to turn a little bit, and some of that probably has to do with us doing well this year."
But Kenny, a vocal holding midfielder, was less concerned about delving into her playing history and more focused on what lies immediately ahead.
"We can't lose the easy games - today was not our best game [vs. Mercyhurst]," she said. "We need to learn from these mistakes and look toward the future. Bridgeport is always a regionally ranked team, a really strong team filled with internationals.
*EYEING THE ECC: Although they're by no means out of contention with three ECC contests to go, the Wildcats aren't a favorite for a spot in the top four - necessary for postseason play.
If Daemen can pull a home result from Bridgeport, knock off evenly matched Molloy and then take down underdog Queens, the Wildcats could find their way into the postseason. Regardless, Dolan's program is in a much different place than a year ago.
"The soccer we're playing at the moment is really good," Kenny summed. "We're hoping and praying that we get to finals."