Enduring two grueling months of the college soccer season has rewarded several programs with a chance at competing in their respective conference tournaments.
While the NCAA Division I schools have a few more matches before the postseason begins, the NCAA Division III sides begin the do-or-die part of their season on Saturday.
Fortunately, all of the NCAA Division III teams that qualified for their postseasons are at home for their first-round matches (which also means they'll be away for their semifinal contests should they advance).
Short preview: The No. 3 seed Bengals barely missed out on a bye into the SUNYAC semifinals, but Mark Howlett's team has earned the chance to host a playoff game, just like last year, when Buffalo State downed New Paltz.
A lot rides on the Bengals' playoff journey - 10 seniors, including captains Luke Pavone, Sammy Wasson and Bucky Benyehuda, as well as defensive starters Danny Clavin and Devonte Black, have their last chance at a thus-far elusive conference title.
Given the near-familial relationship between Howlett and Pavone, conquering the SUNYAC would be a dream end to that story.
Saturday, the foe is Geneseo, who lost to the Bengals, 1-0, on Sept. 22, on a goal by Maissa Dieye. The Knights do boast East Aurora alum Joey Vucic, a former Bengal who leads the No. 6 seed with seven goals and three assists.
Short preview: It's just the second time in program history that D'Youville have advanced to the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference playoffs - and the second in five years under head coach Brendan Murphy. The Spartans are rolling as they enter the postseason; they haven't been beaten in four matches, three of those wins.
Sophomore forward Hunter Sherman has caught fire at the right time, potting seven goals in those four matches. Center back Josh Hammer has been a consistently dominant presence in his own end through tenacity, physicality and sheer will, while newcomers Jake Kowalewski and goalkeeper Kyle Dick helped D'Youville sneak into the playoffs.
No. 3 seed Medaille are heavy favorites in this one, but the Mavs can't overlook their opponent, especially since the two local sides share the same home field. Last year's AMCC runners-up had little trouble disposing of Murphy's Spartans in the regular season, winning 4-0 and out-shooting D'Youville 24-6. Read an elaborate preview of the Mavs' playoff hopes below.
*On the men's side, Daemen, Fredonia and Hilbert fell short of their playoff aspirations.
D'Youville Spartans (7-7-3) vs. La Roche (6-8-2)
2 p.m. Oct. 28 at Dobson Field
Short preview: The Spartans are back in the AMCC playoffs after a surprising one-year hiatus; D'Youville had made the postseason the six previous seasons.
Just like the D'Youville men, Jim Hesch's squad went 3-0-1 in its final four conference games, and a late-season scoring binge by sophomore Marina Campbell - who registered five of her six goals in October - has given the side another offensive threat beside speedy freshman Makenna Magee.
Senior Jenna Tomizzi and freshman Dom Riforgiato form an outstanding center-back pairing, while Kiernan Johnson and Amber Lundrigan have been valuable defending the flanks.
Junior keeper Megan Dulniak carries her red-hot play into Saturday's clash with La Roche; the Cheektowaga alum, who finished the regular season with eight total clean sheets, hasn't permitted a goal in the last 470 minutes. She's as steady as they come, but the back four has done well to limit golden scoring chances.
In the regular-season meeting between the Spartans and La Roche, D'Youville clawed back from a 1-0 first-half deficit to win 2-1 on an own goal. La Roche out-shot D'Youville 21-11 in that meeting, but Hesch's squad has done well from a bend-but-don't-break standpoint.
*On the women's side, Medaille, Hilbert, Fredonia and Buffalo State all missed their respective postseasons. Over in the East Coast Conference, the Daemen women still have a chance.