AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) — University at Buffalo’s outstanding women’s soccer season culminated last fall with a hard-fought loss at Pittsburgh in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
The Bulls, favored to repeat as Mid-American Conference champions, kick off a new season against those same Pitt Panthers, ranked No. 14 in the country, on Thursday night at UB Stadium.
“It’s exciting,” said senior midfielder Leah Wengender, a preseason candidate for the MAC Hermann Trophy given to the nation’s top player. “It will be a good home opener to prove that we belong up there with the ranked teams. Pitt is a very good team that ended our season. This is a different year, and we have a whole new team. But the end goal is to meet them again in the postseason.”
After hosting Pitt, the Bulls travel to play at Ohio State on Saturday.
“To be honest, it’s not ideal,” UB coach Shawn Burke said. “We want these games against Power 5 opponents. But with 10 new faces on our team, we’d rather it be at the end of non-conference, to give us more time to jell and build confidence.
“But you don’t always get to choose the timing of these games. At the end of the day, we want to test ourselves. The sooner we can get tested, the sooner we can get challenged, the quicker we will come together. And it shows how we have elevated our program, that a Power 5 will come play here, because they know ultimately our RPI will help them.”
UB finished with a 15-2-4 record last season, winning the MAC championship and qualifying for the NCAA tournament for the second time in history.
Despite significant roster turnover, the Bulls were picked first in the preseason poll of MAC coaches.
“You always graduate players, but we’ve proven time and again that we bring in more quality,” Burke said. “Players come here because they want to compete for championships. We’ve never wavered from that standard. We’ve made it to the NCAA tournament. But we want more as a program. It’s flattering that we have been picked first. It shows the respect we have in our league. But nobody has ever won a championship on paper. We have to go out and put in the work.”
Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.