Buffalo’s Emily Kelly carries shutout streak into MAC opener | Local Sports

Buffalo’s Emily Kelly carries shutout streak into MAC opener | Local Sports

AMHERST — A stoic force behind Buffalo’s rise in the women’s soccer ranks and ratings, Wilson’s Emily Kelly is ascending the record books in her fourth season as the Bulls’ starting goalkeeper.

Kelly carries a seven-hour shutout streak (421:23) into the Bulls’ opening Mid-American Conference matches Thursday at Ohio and home Sunday against Kent State. Her fourth consecutive clean sheet came in UB’s notable 2-0 result at Connecticut last weekend to finish non-conference play with six straight wins following a loss at No. 13 West Virginia.

UB is positioned fourth in the Midwest regional poll by United Soccer Coaches, behind national No. 8 TCU, West Virginia and Texas Tech. It’s the highest the Bulls have ever been ranked and they are the only MAC team in the poll. UB also has reached a program high at No. 42 in the Ratings Percentage Index, aided by Niagara’s seven straight wins following a 6-2 defeat at UB Stadium.

“To put up a score like that against a team that is red-hot speaks to the experience and quality on this side,” UB coach Shawn Burke said. “Niagara’s success is great for them, great for Western New York soccer, and good for us.”

Beating a Big East opponent was “a signature win for this program and these players,” Burke said, and the fourth straight road victory tied a team record set during UB’s run to the 2014 NCAA tournament in Burke’s first season.

The Bulls believed they were NCAA tournament caliber in the spring, going 6-1-1 in a shortened season devoid of non-conference games. But coronavirus pandemic restrictions and rule changes kept them out of the MAC championship game. Every key player returned this fall with a vengeance, including Offensive Player of the Year Marcy Barberic (Grand Island) and Defensive Player of the Year Hannah Callaghan.

Callaghan came in with Kelly and watched her develop into one of the top goalkeepers in the region.

“She’s an absolute beast in net,” Callaghan said. “She is fearless. We trust her 100% and have all the confidence in the world with her playing behind us.”

Kelly made the All-MAC and All-Academic teams, but it was league rival Bowling Green’s Lilli Berg that received all-region recognition, a snub Burke believes drove Kelly to raise her game another level.

“I think that is a little extra fuel for her whether she will admit it or not,” Burke said. “She walked on this campus as the No. 1 goalkeeper and has never looked back. She has had plenty of competition, and one thing she takes pride in is being the best in our conference. When you have a keeper of her caliber and skillset that has a hunger to keep getting better, that is big for our team.”

Kelly kept sharp during the summer playing for FC Buffalo in United Women’s Soccer. Starting most games for the club’s inaugural season, Kelly was a UWS East honorable mention.

Currently fourth all-time at UB with 27 victories, Kelly could break Laura Dougall’s record (39 from 2014-18) if she takes advantage of pandemic-induced NCAA eligibility allowance for a fifth season, as planned. Kelly also ranks fourth all-time in shutouts (15), on track for second in team history behind Dougall (33).

Kelly keeps an even-keel about individual accolades, records and shutout streaks, demurring to the defenders in front of her. “As long as we win,” she said, “I don’t care how many goals get let in. And it’s a team effort.”

Her quiet competitiveness is more apparent during training sessions.

“In those 1-v-1s, our players should score every time, and she makes sure they don’t,” Burke said. “And that’s why it translates to games, because she does it all in practice.”

“She is absolutely phenomenal in the net in training,” Barber said. “She increases that level of competition for the team. She’s done really great things for our program.”

Burke expects the Bulls will need more greatness from Kelly in the coming weeks.

“She is going to get tested a lot more in conference,” Burke said. “Our defense has done a good job of keeping her not busy so far. But she has showed her professionalism in making really big saves and we are going to lean heavily on her in the conference.”

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