If you're a Big 4 soccer fan, there are reasons to be hopeful. Struggling sides Niagara and St. Bonaventure have some promising underclassmen, while the cupboard isn't example bare at the University at Buffalo and Canisius College, either.
St. Bonaventure's Kieran Toland, UB's Scott Doney and Fox Slotemaker, and Canisius' Mo Kretschmer are ineligible for this list, as they have already been included in BN Soccer's Big 4 Best XI, which you can read here.
See who's next in line locally for soccer stardom:
GOALKEEPER: Cameron Hogg, UB, sophomore
A high school teammate of Big 4 Best XI selection Fox Slotemaker, Hogg offers natural leadership and solid goalkeeping ability with room to get better with his feet and as a shot-stopper. It’s likely that no keeper in the Mid-American Conference is as commanding or as instructive as the boisterous Kiwi, who's in a dogfight with Robert Morris transfer Joe Kuta for the starting role.
DEFENDER: Bonaventure Akinlosotu, St. Bonaventure, red-shirt sophomore
Well suited to attend college in Olean because of his first name, Akinlosotu was handled carefully in the preseason due to injury, but he’s rounding back into form for a team desperate for his size (6’3) and ball-winning in the back four, which has almost constantly been under duress this year. With the merciless Atlantic 10 schedule looming, Akinlosotu’s work will not get any easier.
DEFENDER: Nick Forrester, UB, freshman
A true freshman from New Zealand, Forrester displaced incumbent David Enstrom from his center-back role with his toughness, physicality and tackling. He’s much faster than Enstrom and proved a threat off set pieces from his diving header against Belmont. The fact that Forrester and Slotemaker will have three years as partners in central defense bodes well for head coach Stu Riddle.
DEFENDER: Koby Sapon-Amoah, Niagara, freshman
The burly center back from Texas tackles confidently and powerfully without overcommitting, and his touch and distribution improve by the game. He may stand just 5’11, but Sapon-Amoah doesn’t lose many aerial challenges. Don’t be shocked if KSA is in the conversation for All-MAAC honors sooner rather than later.
DEFENDER: Jake Montante, Canisius, sophomore
Canisius students and alums will recognize the last name -- the Montante Cultural Center is named after his grandfather, Carl Sr. -- but Jake has already put his stamp on Griffs’ soccer, carving out a role as a freshman last year and continuing to fight for time this year. Like his teammate De Carolis from the Best XI list, Montante isn’t shy about getting forward or serving long passes out of his right back position. When De Carolis and Schroen graduate, Montante will be more than prepared to take the torch, but he'll have to ward off classmate Mitch Cancilla, a converted forward.
MIDFIELDER: Bautista Pedezert, Niagara, freshman
“Bauti” is a nice fit in the middle of the park -- his touch and vision are his biggest assets, and his through-ball to Alex Dimitriu to knot the game against UB was a thing of beauty. He’s a harder worker than he’s given credit for, but could stand to look for his own shot more often. His defensive mettle will be tested in conference play, which tends to be unforgiving.
MIDFIELDER: Melvin Blair, Canisius, freshman
Griffs head coach Dermot McGrane says Blair has the potential to be the best player he’s ever coached, which is saying something, coming from a gaffer with over 20 years of experience. McGrane pointed out several “wow” moments in practice that have yet to carry over to games -- the former U-17 Jamaican international is shaking off the rust after missing last year at Wayland Baptist due to academics -- but glimpses of terrific one-vs.-one ability and startling acceleration have been on display. Fortunately for Canisius, Blair doesn’t need to embrace a starring role immediately.
MIDFIELDER: Brennan Koslow, Niagara, sophomore
It’s a big statement from Niagara head coach Eric Barnes to award the captain’s armband to Koslow, who’s just a sophomore. Long and athletic, Koslow bounces between midfield and defense, and is more than competent at both. Like Koby Sapon-Amoah, Koslow is strong and decisive in his tackles, yet he’s also probably Niagara’s best all-around player.
MIDFIELDER: Lucian Preis, Canisius, sophomore
Dealing with injury to begin the 2015 campaign, Preis (pronounced “prize”) is a strong athlete in the middle of the park with the willingness and pace to carry the ball into space and pressure defenses. His chemistry in the defensive midfield with Mo Kretschmer, a Big 4 first-team selection, will be key as the two sophomores develop together.
FORWARD: Kosi Nwafornso, St. Bonaventure, freshman
Talk about being thrown into the fire. The lanky 6’1 Nigerian forward earned a starting role for coach Kwame Oduro out of the gate, and alongside Kieran Toland, has been asked to shoulder much of the Bonnies’ offense. Nwafornso’s 76th minute goal against Detroit broke St. Bonaventure’s 436-minute scoreless streak, so there’s at least one highlight in a season of very few.
FORWARD: Alex Dimitriu, Niagara, freshman
There are moments when Dimitriu plays and acts like a freshman, but he’s pacy in getting behind defenses, dynamic running at defenders with the ball and a capable finisher. His body language and confidence are a work in progress, but the seeds of talent are absolutely there.
Email Ben Tsujimoto at email@example.com
Story topics: Alex Dimitriu/ Bautista Pedezert/ big 4 soccer/ Bonaventure Akinlosotu/ Brennan Koslow/ Cameron Hogg/ college soccer/ Jake Montante/ Koby Sapon-Amoah/ Kosi Nwafornso/ Lucian Preis/ Melvin Blair/ Niagara/ Niagara men's soccer/ Niagara Purple Eagles/ Nick Forrester/ UB Soccer/ Underclassman Best XI/ Underclassmen to Watch