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BN Soccer Big 4 wrap-up: Men's Best XI

To finally put a bow-tie on the college soccer season - it's so short that we might as well draw it out a bit - it's time to release the inaugural BN Soccer awards for the local Big 4 schools: University at Buffalo, Canisius, Niagara and St. Bonaventure.

BN Soccer Men's Offensive Player of the Year: Russell Cicerone, University at Buffalo

BN Soccer Men's Defensive Player of the Year: Thomas Teupen, Canisius

BN Soccer Men's Coach of the Year: Stu Riddle, University at Buffalo

Best XI for Men's Big 4 (4-5-1):

Striker: Russell Cicerone, University at Buffalo senior
Why: The Bulls' talisman wrapped up his UB career with his fourth consecutive first-team All-Mid-American Conference selection, a spot on the regional All-American team and second place in career points for the Bulls program. No, he didn't always play up front, but the dearth of strikers across the Big 4 made it sensible to use him here.

[Related: Feature on how hockey fueled Cicerone's rise]

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Midfielder: Mathew Santos, Canisius senior
Why: The Griffs' most consistent attacking player was Santos, who either scored or assisted on 10 of the side's 21 goals. Pacy and creative with an impressive knack for seeing and completing the final ball. Credit head coach Dermot McGrane for employing Santos more on the wing instead of as a second forward.

Midfielder: Kieran Toland, St. Bonaventure junior
Why: The Scottish field general, who led the Bonnies with four goals, barely nudges out teammate Paul Afful for this spot. Toland's junior campaign featured much better health than his previous season, and he proved more dangerous with a better cast around him. His combination of physicality and above-average technical skills allow him to stand out in the middle of the park without blazing speed.

[Related: Toland part of the raucous Scottish connection on FC Buffalo]

Midfielder: Bautista Pedezert, Niagara sophomore
Why: The youngest player in this Best XI at times seemed like the oldest, as new Niagara coach Bill Boyle relied upon the Argentinian to patrol the midfield, demanding strong effort defensively with enough energy to create in the attack. Occasionally a little fiery, Pedezert is a big reason why last season wasn't a miserable mess in Monteagle Ridge.

Midfielder: Daniel Cramarossa, University at Buffalo senior
Why: Cicerone's classmate and close friend wasn't showered in post-season honors, but his contributions run much further than a pedestrian stat line of no goals and three assists. His versatility meant that Riddle could trot out different formations regularly, specific to opponents, without much worry. The Canadian was a master at dribbling out of trouble, spinning away from pressure and keeping the ball in tight areas.

Midfielder: Mo Kretschmer, Canisius junior
Why: The German holding midfielder is without question the Big 4's best No. 6. Kretschmer is hard in the tackle and intelligently breaks up attacks, but his poise on the ball sets him apart from others at his position. A graceful player.

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Defender: Fox Slotemaker, University at Buffalo junior
Why: The New Zealander is a no-frills center back who played through injury in 2016 and was surprisingly ignored for the conference all-star teams. Slotemaker offers an uncanny ability to knock attackers off balance and use his body to neutralize faster players. While not remarkably smooth on the ball, he avoids bad giveaways and is invaluable in cutting out attacks.

Defender: David Enstrom, University at Buffalo junior
Why: Riddle gushed about the big Swedish midfielder-defender on many occasions this year. Enstrom captured All-MAC first-team honors and scored some massive goals - the game winners against Canisius College to protect the Big 4 Shield and then against Bowling Green for a berth in the conference title game.

Defender: Thomas Teupen, Canisius senior
Why: The regional All-American center back and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Defensively Player of the Year is a force in the heart of McGrane's defense, yet iced the cake with three goals, including two game-winners (Bucknell, St. Bonaventure). The 6'4 German was consistent throughout all four seasons at Demske, starting 68 matches over an outstanding career.

Defender: Bjarki Benediktsson, Canisius red-shirt sophomore
Why: Perhaps expectations were higher for Benediktsson, who sat out 2015 after transferring from Boston, where he was Patriot League Rookie of the Year, but he's still the best outside back in the Big 4. Stepping in for graduated Alex De Carolis as the Griffs' offensive-minded, left-footed fullback, Benediktsson delivered dangerous set pieces and picked out accurate long balls. Easily the Big 4's best beard, too.

Goalkeeper: Joseph Kuta, University at Buffalo junior
Why: Kuta seized the starting job in the middle of his sophomore season and ran with it through his junior year, where he helped the Bulls to the MAC title game for the second straight season. He, too, was snubbed from the conference all-star teams despite making the most saves (70), keeping the most clean sheets (10), finishing second in save percentage (.805) and third in goals-against average (.86).

Honorable mention: Fabrizio Chiari (Niagara), Paul Afful (St. Bonaventure), Lucian Preis (Canisius), Konrad Zydowicz (Niagara), Isaiah Wilson (St. Bonaventure), Alec Fisher (Buffalo), Marco Trivellato (Canisius).

Related: Women's Best XI from 2016

Email Ben Tsujimoto, especially to air your grievances, at btsujimoto@buffnews.com

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