Bulls Look to Take Next Step With Deep Roster of Talent
BUFFALO, NY - The 2012 Bulls will enter the season in a fresh new world, having completed the largest season-to-season turnaround in program history and one of the largest RPI (ratings percentage index) jumps in the nation. After winning just one game in 2010, the team went 12-5-4 to make the Mid-American Conference tournament for the first time since 2003, and made it all the way to the Mid-American Conference semifinals.
With the goal of earning a MAC championship now closer than ever under fifth-year head coach Michael Thomas, the team not only return eleven players 12 games or more for the Bulls in 2011, but will bring back five key reserves who missed major time due to injury. Thanks to the veteran depth, the team's four talented newcomers can settle in and find their niche, not needing to be thrust into a major role but instead filling needs and also providing valuable depth.
On the offense's front line, the Bulls return six offensive threats that play up front and run the gamut of experience. Leading the way will be seniors Taylor Thompson and Katie Kerr. Thompson has the second most goals of the returning group of players (with four), while Kerr scored twice in 2011 after transitioning from a defensive midfielder to a more offensive threat. Junior duo Stephanie Velez and Karen McMahon found their niche as super subs last season, posting four and six points, respectively, in 2011.
On the underclassmen attack, sophomore standouts Katie Roberts and Megan Giesen return with sky-high expectations after being major factors in the team's turnaround last season. Roberts led the team with seven goals and four assists, and was named to the MAC All-Freshman team. Joining her on that team was Giesen, who made 12 starts and scored twice before suffering a late-season injury - though she will make a full recovery to join the team in 2012. Also expected to compete for time at the forward position will be sophomore N'Dea Johnson.
In the midfield, the Bulls have a wealth of young experience and will also be returning major pieces from injury. Senior Shannon Fisher has been the go-to option for coach Thomas for nearly her entire career, and after starting all but one game last season, Shannon will look to end her career at UB with an even better season. She will be joined by sophomores Jackie Hall and Courtney Mann, who both bring an unquestionable toughness up the middle for UB.
Returning from injury will be Lauren Coviello and Megan Abman. Coviello is another physical force for the Bulls, while Abman has shown a terrific nose for the goals after scoring four goals in just eight starts. Adding depth in the midfield will be a handful of talented players who offer positional flexibility and a shot to see major minutes at a number of different positions. Aside from a trio of incoming freshmen, junior Courtney Gross could also see time in the midfield or up front as an attacking forward.
The flexible Gross could also find herself spending more time as a valuable member of a back line that has proven itself to be the heart of UB's success last season. Senior Shannon Algoe remains one of the best defenders in the MAC and also continues to excel as the team's big leg in offensive set pieces. Senior Angela Nicholas returns for her fifth season after missing nearly all of 2011 due to a knee injury, and will certainly be relied upon to either start, or be the first defensive player off the bench.
Junior Natalie Jurisevic has been another mainstay on the pitch since the moment she stepped onto campus and will be asked to do even more now as she transitions into a veteran role in the starting lineup. One of the keys to the team's improvement last season was the addition of Sophie Therien to the back line. From scoring the game-winning goal in her first game in a UB uniform, Therien instantly solidified the team's defense along the wing and has a deadly strong leg as well. Filling in on the defensive depth chart is senior Carolyn McNamara and possible two or three of the incoming freshman class.
With so many key pieces returning, junior Ainsley Wheldon in goal this season could arguably be the most important. The Waterloo, Ontario native posted a sub-1.00 GAA with 10 shutouts, 139 saves and an .891 save percentage. Her aggressive style in the net has cost her a few games in the first two seasons of her career, but the UB coaching staff is just fine with that thanks to a standout backup goalie McKenzie White. The sophomore saw 64 minutes of playing time in three games as a sub, making five highlight-reel saves in the process and not allowing a single goal. Redshirt freshman Sarah Moore will also provide depth behind Wheldon in goal.
In the past two seasons, the Bulls have underwent a face lift to the team and it has already paid dividends. After adding eight players in 2010 and 2011, the team will bring in five new players for the 2012 campaign. What the class lacks in quantity, though, it makes up in quality.
Kristin Markiewicz (Erie, PA) comes north to join the bulls from Erie PA after a star-studded youth career. As the captain of Harbor Creek high school, she has been named All-State, and a two time District 10 All Star while leading the team to the 2011 District 10 championship. In addition to her prep success, she has garnered attention on the club side as well. As a member of the Erie Admirals Soccer Club, she participated in the 2011 US Club nationals in Boise, Idaho and has participated in the Olympic Development program at the state and regional levels. She will see time in multiple roles in her first season, most likely on defense.
Kassidy Kidd (Niagara Falls, Ontario) was the co-captain of the OYSL Oakville Titans. In addition to her playing duties with the Titans, she was a member of Team Ontario from 2008-2010 and in ranked in the top 10 in her graduating class. Coach Thomas believes that her versatile athleticism could enable her to excel at nearly any position on the field.
Rachel Cook (Buffalo, NY) comes to UB from right down the road, playing for Williamsville South in high school. She was named second team All-Western New York and All-Conference her senior year. She spent the early part of her prep education at Christian Central High School, where she was a three-time IAC All-Star selection while racking up 104 goals. In addition to this, she is a product of the local Blackwatch Soccer Club.
Kerrianne Madigan (Hicksville, NY) is transferring to Buffalo from SUNY Albany, where she tallied one assist and played in seven games as a freshman in 2011. Before playing for the Great Danes, she was captain of her Hicksville High School soccer team. Kerrianne was named all-conference, all-classification, and all-country during her time there. In addition to her prep duties, Madigan also competed for the Albertson Fury Soccer Club where her team won the U17 Eastern New York State Cup. She will be competing for a starting forward position.
The final newcomer is Brittney Noble (Darien, IL / Hinsdale South), who walks on to the team after playing for NAIA member Lindenwood last season. She played in 15 games and scored one goal while playing in the midfield.
Fresh off the largest season-to-season turnaround in not just program history, but among all Division I teams, the UB women's soccer team released its 2012 schedule Tuesday afternoon. The non-conference schedule features rematches with five teams and new rivalries with three other schools.
"This year's schedule continues to challenge the team as we try to take a step forward from successful 2011 season and prepare for a difficult 2012 Mid-American Conference campaign," said head coach Michael Thomas.
The regular season will begin with a pair of home games, starting with a game at UB Stadium against Colgate at 7 pm on Aug. 17. Then the following Thursday, the Bulls face Big Four rival Canisius in what should be a physical battle. Last season, Buffalo won 1-0 in double overtime against the Golden Griffins.
After the pair of home contests, the Bulls will hit the road for three road matches. First up will be St. Bonaventure (Aug. 26), then Youngstown State (Aug. 28) and finally Bucknell (Aug. 31). The game against the Penguins of Youngstown State will be the first meeting of the two teams since 1996.
As September rolls around, UB will play back at home against Niagara on Sept. 2 and then take a 12-day break before playing two games in the Niagara Tournament. Hosted by the Purple Eagles, the tournament (Sept. 14-16) will pit the Bulls against Robert Morris and St. Francis (PA). The tournament will also mark the close of the non-conference schedule.
With the weekend MAC schedule getting underway, Buffalo starts out on the road against Ball State on Sept. 21 and at Miami (OH) on Sept. 23. The team will then play defending MAC champions Toledo at home Friday, Sept. 28 and follow that up at home against Northern Illinois on the 30th.
The team will then embark on a critical stretch of three straight East Division road games, facing Kent State (Oct. ), Ohio (Oct. 7), and Bowling Green (Oct. 12) all in hostile territory. To cap that four-game road swing, UB will face perennial power Central Michigan Oct. 14.
Hitting the home stretch, Buffalo will end the regular season with three home games in a row. It will start by welcoming in Eastern Michigan Oct. 19 and Western Michigan Oct. 21, before ending the regular season against East rival Akron on Oct. 25.