Already the University at Buffalo is enjoying its best women's soccer season in years. At 8-2 the team already has matched its win total from the last three seasons combined. The last time the team won eight games was when the Bulls went 8-10 in 2006.
And while the Bulls have the appropriate level of humility, there is something distinctly satisfying about getting the wins on the field. There's something tangible in winning and going 7-1 during the non-conference season as a way to set up Mid-American Conference play.
"Even though everyone knows that conference is the start of a new season, it's hard to start over when you haven't had that success in nonconference games," senior forward Aubreh Stahl said. "So this year the fact that we had so much success brings a lot of confidence coming into MAC play, knowing that we have some things sorted out. We know that we can win games. It really helps allow us to build off something instead of just start over."
The numbers show the team's distinct improvement. With 15 goals the team already has more goals than it scored in 2010 or 2009, with 10 players getting into the scoring column. Ainsley Wheldon ranks in the top 10 in career saves (156) and wins (eight) as she leads the Bulls' defense, which has eight shutouts this season.
How did the Bulls construct the turnaround?
It started with offseason practice last spring and carried over to preseason. It was a case of players buying into the nitty-gritty of what it would take to get better individually and collectively.
"After the disappointing season (1-16-2) that we had [last year] we came out every morning in the spring and worked," said junior defender Shannon Algoe. "We worked on our fitness and skills. We had to come together as a team to push through adversity and that translated into the preseason when we all came in fit. I think that translated into how we play in games."
"We've had end-of-the-season meetings every year and we talk about what we'll work on in the spring but for some reason I just feel everyone made a personal choice that they were going to step up and compete hard," Stahl said. "Just having that mentality to come in and work hard every day made a difference."
That early success is setting the stage for the MAC season. While the team lost to Bowling Green, 2-1, on a goal in the 89th minute, it defeated Miami (Ohio), 1-0 in overtime, giving the Bulls their first MAC win since October 2009 and their first win over the RedHawks since 2003.
The team has not qualified for the conference playoffs since 2003 and the program is aiming at taking one of the eight tournament spots this year. After all, the players feel they have something to prove to the rest of the conference, a point to make about their improved level of play and a sense of pride to uphold.
"I think we always have something to prove no matter what game we play," Algoe said. "We always come out representing our team, our coaches, our families, our school. I think it's more important to prove to ourselves that all the work we do, all the tears and sweat we put into it, pays off in the end."
Niagara gets key win
The Niagara women's volleyball team took wins over rival Canisius and Syracuse in a weekend that saw one streak end and another continue. When the Purple Eagles pulled out a five-game win over Syracuse, they ended a 15-match losing streak to the Orange while extending Niagara's home win streak to 11 matches -- the ninth longest streak in the nation.
Niagara (9-7, 3-0) returns to Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play this weekend, hosting Manhattan on Saturday (2 p.m.) and Saint Peter's on Sunday (2 p.m.).
Buffalo State, meanwhile, is off to its best conference start in women's volleyball, going 4-0 in SUNYC pool play this weekend. Sophomore setter Kelsey Bashore led the Bengals to the hot conference start. A Division I transfer from Louisiana-Lafayette, she averaged eight assists, 1.5 kills and 2.14 digs per game over the weekend.
The Erie Community College women's volleyball team continued its impressive play with wins over Monroe, Alfred State and Finger Lakes over the weekend. Ranked ninth in the latest NCAA Division III poll, the Kats have won seven straight matches to improve to 15-1. They play at Division II Mercyhurst North East today.
Canisius wins Little Three title
Canisius won both the men's and women's title at the annual Little Three Cross Country Championships, at Veterans Memorial Park in Niagara Falls. It was the sixth straight title for the men and fifth consecutive for the women. Freshman Chad Maloy won the individual title, finishing the 8K course in 26:27, while senior Christine Mulvihill took the women's title, running the 5K course in 18:54.