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Lineup tweaks pay dividends as UB women find stride

University at Buffalo head coach Shawn Burke and his staff are not afraid to tinker with the Bulls' lineup, and a few changes were exactly what a persistent team needed to get over the hump of creating chances but not finishing.

The Bulls scored four goals in a regular season match for the first time since Sept. 5, 2008, earning a comfortable 4-1 victory over Northern Illinois to improve to 3-2-1 in Mid-American Conference play.

Senior Kassidy Kidd, moved up front from her advanced midfield role before the Western Michigan match, notched a brace, book-ending goals by Celina Carrero and Rebecca Bramble.

"[The scoring outburst] has been a long time coming," Kidd said post-game. "We've worked too hard not to start getting these goals and finishing our chances. Today was a lot of fun."

Junior Andrea Niper, who'd previously paired with captain Jackie Hall at center back, also swapped positions with Kristin Markiewicz, the holding center midfielder. A composed all-around performance from Niper earned her player of the match honors -- selected by the team -- while Markiewicz made a seamless transition to her new role, even if she didn't face a ton of pressure.

Although some teams would be resistant to too much tinkering, the Bulls -- Kidd especially -- applauded the subtle switches.

"All the changes we've put into play this week have made a huge difference, regardless if it's offensively or defensively," said the Canadian senior, who scored the Bulls' lone goal in Friday's 1-1 draw against Western Michigan.

On both goals, Kidd capitalized on shaky goalkeeping from Northern Illinois' Amy Annala, who conceded a rebound directly to Kidd on the first goal and would likely love to have the second back (see the goals in the video below).

Regardless of the quality, Kidd was well positioned on both: she kept pace with Carissima Cutrona's darting foray down the right wing on the first goal, then made her own diagonal run in front of the Huskies' center back to latch on to Carrero's short pass on the second.

From watching her movement off the ball, you wouldn't believe this was Kidd's second start at striker in her college career.

Similar to how UB Football's Boise Ross made a quick transition from wide receiver to cornerback because he understood the game from the other position's perspective, Kidd can play off Julia Benati and Cutrona easily because of her background as an attacking mid and the fact that she can now make the runs that she previously wanted her teammates to make.

"I've always been an attacking player, so it's nice to be able to be on the other end of all those other midfielders that I've been playing with and connecting with," explained Kidd, whose family was in the stands to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving. "I'm used to where their balls go, so now I can get on the other end of them."

  Day of triumph: UB goalkeeper McKenzie White played in her first match since 2011, replacing Laura Dougall for the game's final 18:24 and keeping the Huskies off the score sheet. The senior's courage, positive nature and persistence -- despite being born with clubbed feet and crooked legs -- has rubbed off on her teammates, who were absolutely elated during White's return to the pitch. Watching Dougall welcome White on to the field, as well as the outspoken excitement of her teammates from the bench, was heartwarming. [Read Sara DiNatale's feature for the UB Spectrum from 2013 that beautifully tells White's story.]

Ridiculous wind: A strong ~20 miles-per-hour wind affected play considerably in Sunday's match, as the conditions favored Northern in the first half and UB in the second. Nearly every ball played in the air would be tossed toward the scoreboard end of UB Stadium, wreaking havoc on Bulls starter Laura Dougall in the first half.

While Dougall admitted that the ball wobbled in the wind, making it tough to catch, Mother Nature did save her from allowing a first-half goal when a rebound in the six-yard box that seemed destined for a Husky tap-in wound up floating over the bar.

Turning point: Even at 1 with the final seconds of the first half winding down, freshman Brianna Shingary floated a long cross from the left wing toward classmate Nicole Gerritz, who used her body wonderfully to both settle and shield the ball, forcing a Northern defender to pull her down in the box. Bramble, a third freshman involved in this scoring play, calmly placed her penalty kick low, away from Annala. The halftime whistle blew seconds later.

MAC update: Kent State's loss to Miami benefits the Bulls, whose 10 points have them tied for third overall in the Mid-American Conference and in sole possession of second in the MAC East Division.

Keeping tabs on the other MAC teams may be a media-only activity, as Burke has instructed his side not to dwell on the conference table.

"It's a tough conference -- every single team is going to give you a battle," said the Bulls' second-year head coach. "We've had a few unfortunate results, at the end of the day we keep telling this group to keep getting better toward November, and they are. We're going in the right direction.

"We have to remember that last year was special, but that was last year," Burke continued. "This is this year's team, and they've taken a little longer to hit their stride, but they're hitting their stride and playing at a really high level. We're excited about the future.

What's next?: The Bulls remain at home for a 5 p.m. match Friday against Toledo, the first game in a women's-men's doubleheader at UB Stadium. The men play West Virginia after the conclusion of the women's game.

Email Ben Tsujimoto, who almost blew away this afternoon, at btsujimoto@buffnews.com

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