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UB out to erase bad memory

There is still a vivid memory of the 2005 Mid-American Conference championship game. It's already become an institutional memory -- one that players who pass through the University at Buffalo men's soccer program will have regardless of whether or not they actually were there.

After playing scoreless through regulation and overtime, Akron beat UB on penalty kicks, 7-6, to win the MAC title and the NCAA automatic bid.

Heartbreaking? Certainly. But it also created a culture of expectations around the Bulls' program that include reaching the conference final and challenging for a postseason title.

In fact, some might argue that Buffalo is waiting for the men's soccer team to bring home the school's first team MAC tournament crown.

"There are expectations that this team is living with," UB coach John Astudillo said. "You really want to bring that first championship home and I tell the players that expectations can be pressure only if you let it be."

It will be a tall order for the Bulls to break through that barrier as the MAC tournament is played this weekend at No. 1 seed Akron, ranked 17th nationally.

And then there's the fact that UB would have liked to enter the postseason on a different note. Although they secured the No. 2 seed and a bye into the MAC semifinals, the Bulls are on a three-game losing skid. Granted, one of those losses is to Akron (1-0), but the team also lost to semifinal opponent Hartwick and crosstown rival Canisius.

The Bulls (9-6-2) will play their semifinal at 5 p.m. Friday against the Hawks, a winner in penalty kicks over Western Michigan in Tuesday's play-in game.

"I feel like we have enough firepower on offense and we just need to show some defensive moxie," Astudillo said. "We have to step it up a little bit to be able to get into the finals. If we get to Akron, they're a bona fide championship team but we'd like to put 2005 behind us."
In the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Canisius is having one of the best years in program history. The Golden Griffins' 7-10 overall record ties the mark for most wins while their 5-4 conference mark sets a record for MAAC wins.

The Griffs closed out the regular season with that 3-2 win at UB in an environment that prepared the team for its own postseason tournament.

"That UB game was a great test for us," Canisius coach Jim Hesch said. "UB is a quality team having a great season and it was a tournament-style atmosphere. They were down a goal late and pressing hard and we did what we had to do to win the game. It was by no means pretty, but when it comes down to tournament time you win on your defense."
Canisius, which earned the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye, will play No. 5 Iona (8-9-2) at 2 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinal round at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex in Florida.
Niagara (5-10-2) took the No. 7 seed and will play No. 10 Manhattan (2-13-3) in a first-round game at 11 a.m. today.


>Cardinals lock up No. 2 seed

St. John Fisher's football team will kick off the Division III playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the Mount Union bracket. The Cardinals (9-1) will host No. 5 Hobart (8-2) at noon Saturday.

Fisher earned its second straight Empire 8 conference title and its third in four years. Senior defensive back Steve Stepnick (Iroquois) leads the Cardinals in interceptions (five for 76 yards), kick returns (nine for 233 yards) and solo tackles with 39 (66 total).

There are 32 teams in the national field with eight in each bracket. Mount Union (10-0) is the No. 1 seed in Fisher's bracket which also includes No. 3 Curry, No. 4 Rensselaer, No. 6 College of New Jersey, No. 7 Hartwick and No. 8 Ithaca.


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