AMHERST, N.Y. — University at Buffalo’s women’s soccer team is going to the Division I NCAA tournament for the second time in program history after defeating Ball State 2-0 in the Mid-American Conference championship game Sunday at UB Stadium.
UB (15-1-4) brings a 17-game unbeaten streak into the NCAAs, and will open tournament play at 7 p.m. Saturday at Pittsburgh (12-4-3, which is making its first NCAA tournament appearance, seeded fourth in the bracket region and ranked 13th in the Ratings Percentage Index. UB is 37th in RPI.
The Bulls’ only loss this season came on the road against a Rutgers team ranked No. 3 nationally at the time and currently 23rd in RRI.
UB previously won the MAC championship and played in the NCAA tournament in 2014, losing 4-1 at Penn State in the first round. That team finished 16-3-3 and was 32nd in RPI going into the NCAAs.
“It was a long time coming,” said Hannah Callaghan, the fifth-year senior defender from Rochester who was named MVP of the MAC tournament. “It’s been a rollercoaster of a journey. This group is so special, and we knew it from day one. We knew as long as we were ourselves out on the soccer field, no one was going to touch us.”
Leah Wengender gave UB the lead in the 18th minute of the MAC final, Arianna Zumpano added her eighth goal of the season in the 74th minute, and Wilson native Emily Kelly recorded her 35th career shutout, a school record. Kelly has allowed eight goals all season, and four during the 17-game unbeaten streak.
“Being a senior, the last four years, we’ve come short of being MAC champions,” Wengender said. “Hosting the MAC championship at our home field, seeing the crowd and all our family and friends here, it meant so much to us.”
Many of the players on the current UB roster were disappointed at not receiving an NCAA at-large bid after being left out of the MAC tournament in the 2021 spring season, when the Bulls had the most conference wins and highest RPI.
“So happy for the group, to be able to do this at home in front of an amazing crowd,” UB coach Shawn Burke said. “To host the MAC championship, and they way we showed out as a fanbase is amazing. To stand back and see them celebrate with their closest friends and family is such a job.
“Especially for our fifth-year seniors. The rollercoaster ride, to finally see them break through, and this amazing run they’ve been on. I can’t stress how happy I am for these players. This group has shown all year long, whatever is thrown in front of them, they’ll figure it out.”
Burke could argue that UB’s season performance merited consideration for an at-large bid to the NCAAs if it had lost the MAC final, but he wasn’t certain the selection committee would have agreed. Success against a difficult non-conference schedule over the past two seasons, including a win at UConn in 2021, and a 1-0 lead at halftime against Rutgers, has helped prepare UB for the NCAA tournament challenge.
“It’s belief,” Burke said. “They’ve done it. They’ve seen it. And I think that is going to be massive for whoever we draw coming up next weekend. The experience that we’ve had in those games is why we schedule them. It is to get us ready for the NCAA, because we know the type of teams we want to be playing in come November.”
Medaille’s men’s soccer team will play in the D-III NCAA tournament for the seventh time and first since 2017. The Mavericks (12-1-6) will face SUNY Cortland (12-5-2) in the first round at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
The Mavericks won the Empire 8 Conference title in overtime on their home field Saturday night for its sixth consecutive win. This was Medaille’s first season playing in the Empire 8 after leaving the Alleghany Mountain Collegiate Conference.
Medaille (12-1-6) has won six in a row after claiming the Empire 8 Conference championship in overtime on their home field Saturday night. This is Medaille’s first season playing in the Empire 8.
Sophomore striker Ander Castillo was named Empire 8 Player of the Year after setting a conference record with 21 goals, which ranks among the top five nationally. Castillo, who played goalkeeper growing up in Bilbao, Spain, led NCAA D-III with 25 goals as a freshman.
Two women’s soccer teams from Western New York’s D-I colleges played in conference finals in the same season for the first time in history. Niagara (11-8-1) made its first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title game appearance since 2009, losing 4-0 at Quinnipiac on Sunday. The Purple Eagles are 1-4 all-time in the MAAC final, winning in 2006.
South Carolina, with St. Mary’s graduate Shae O’Rourke second on the team in scoring as a freshman, won the SEC and is seeded third in its regional bracket. The Gamecocks (12th in RPI) open NCAA tournament play against Wake Forest.
Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.