Enduring grueling two-game weekends, spending hours with the trainer and gutting through two-footed tackles all seems worthwhile if your college program reaches the postseason. As is true in any sport, anything can happen in the playoffs.
Across the landscape of local college soccer, several programs have advanced to their respective conference tournaments, which begin, in most cases, Oct. 27 and 28. Here are the Buffalo-area sides with bonus soccer on the docket, with match details and a short preview:
Medaille vs. winner of Mount Aloysius/La Roche
2 p.m. Oct. 31 at Dobson Field at D'Youville College (4th Street, Buffalo).
Preview: The only men's team in the Buffalo area to secure a home playoff match, Micky Blythe's players will be able to lick their wounds from the conference season as they await their semifinal opponent. This time of year, a little rest rarely hurts.
First-year forward Lachlan Beever has led the line for Medaille, as his 18 total goals rank fifth in all of NCAA Division III. The big Australian, recruited to Medaille thanks in part to his country-mate Anthony Marafioti, is virtually impossible to push off the ball, deceptively fast and gives an honest effort through 90 minutes. His future is bright.
Mount, the heavy favorite against La Roche, beat the Mavericks in the regular season, 3-2, on Medaille's home(-ish) turf, and has emerged as a worthy second rival in a conference that was once Medaille, Penn State Behrend - a huge gap - and then everyone else. The Mavs beat La Roche, 6-1, in their 2018 match-up.
Read more about the 2018 Mavericks here.
Buffalo State at Oneonta
1 p.m. Oct. 27 at SUNY Oneonta (108 Ravine Parkway, Oneonta).
Preview: After Mark Howlett's surprise July departure, interim head coach Franco Cardillo has galvanized a team - beset by a thin roster and untimely injuries this year - to a SUNYAC playoff appearance.
It's the final chance for senior captains Robert Williamson and August Finn to leave their mark on the Bengals program, but a trip to Oneonta - a perennial conference favorite - will be no easy task, especially with starting goalkeeper Andy Queen's health uncertain and outside back Colin O'Keefe's absence for personal reasons.
Like Buffalo State has done all season, though, they'll find a way to compensate. Freshman goalkeeper Dylan Guarino has stepped in ably during Queen's absence, posting three shutouts in four starts and holding a minuscule 0.45 goals against average. Trevor Moreland and Tony Roncone both have experience this season at outside back, so the drop in quality with O'Keefe out shouldn't be too noticeable.
Norwegian freshman Theo Pencic closed the regular season with 11 goals, including a hat-trick in the season finale against Alfred University. Perhaps his first hat-trick of the year, which came against Fredonia in the Battle by the Lake, was even more meaningful.
Read more about Buffalo State men's soccer here.
D'Youville at Franciscan
2 p.m. Oct. 27 at Franciscan (1235 University Blvd., Steubenville, Ohio).
Preview: Credit D'Youville and head coach Brendan Murphy; the Spartans have bought in to a defense-first concept and become a side difficult to break down. Seniors Matt Davis and Josh Hammer form an athletic, tough center back pairing, while Jake Kowalewski has been an unsung hero at fullback. Captain AJ Wade, on the other flank, is a no-nonsense defender who's never seen a tackle he didn't like.
Junior forward Hunter Sherman has paced the Spartans in scoring in all three of his years on campus, and the Lockport grad has done so with relatively little help. His ability to unnerve opponents - even when double and triple-teamed - and his unheralded work rate often create chances out of nothing. The return of Marco Ciccarelli from injury brings more steel to the midfield.
Franciscan, which topped D'Youville, 2-0, late in the regular season, boasts Canisius High School alums J.P. and Michael Bobak on its roster. The former, a sophomore midfielder, paces the team in shots, with 68, and is tied for third in points, with 11.
Niagara vs. Rider
Noon Oct. 28 at Niagara University (5795 Lewiston Road, Niagara Falls).
Preview: Thanks to better luck on the injury front, Peter Veltri has guided his Purple Eagles to the No. 4 seed in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament and a home game against Rider, an opponent that NU beat 2-1 in the regular season. Niagara has a little bit of everything: solid veteran leadership, a deep roster and a trio of productive forwards that can break foes down in different ways.
Recent playoff history against Rider isn't positive: in 2015, the Broncs trounced the Purple Eagles, 4-1, after Niagara went down to 10 players early in the second half. Of the current Purple Eagles, though, only red-shirt senior Amelia Gulley, whom we wrote about at length in our season primer, was part of that team, so expect Niagara to enter Sunday's home clash without any demons.
University at Buffalo at Ball State
1 p.m. Oct. 28 at Ball State University (2000 W. University Ave., Muncie, Ind.).
Preview: It's been a trying second half of the season for the Bulls after a spectacularly bright start; UB and head coach Shawn Burke - just honored for his 50th win at the helm - have lost five of seven Mid-American Conference games since program-great Carissima Cutrona was lost to a season-ending knee injury.
While the Bulls needed a little help from around the conference to secure the No. 7 seed, UB battled in its regular-clash with the Cardinals, losing only 1-0 in Muncie, and that match came without Cutrona.
Positives from 2018, though, include contributions from a slew of local recruits. Freshman goalkeeper Emily Kelly has been outstanding in her freshman season, as his fellow Western New York Flash Academy product Tess Ford, a minutes-eater at center back.
Forward Marcy Barberic, a Grand Island alum, is the side's most dangerous scoring threat, and defender-midfielder Annie Judasz (Lancaster) has a dogged work rate and is versatile.
Daemen vs. Chestnut Hill
Oct. 30 at Mercy or Bridgeport. Time and location to be determined.
Preview: A landmark season for the Wildcats, as head coach Dan Dolan directed Daemen to its first East Coast Conference Tournament. The program's top-four finish in a tough conference is quite the feat, and Williamsville South alum Jamie Boyar - the reigning ECC offensive player of the week - topped the conference with 18 goals, which amounted to more than half of the Wildcats' season total (32).
Creator Celia de Pablo Esteban registered 13 assists in the campaign, which continues with a tune-up against Chestnut Hill College on Saturday. Although Mercy College ranks No. 7 in the nation among NCAA Division II schools, Daemen lost only 3-1 to the Mavericks during the regular season, and 5-0 to Bridgeport. Either foe - especially on the road - will prove daunting.
D'Youville vs. Franciscan
3 p.m. Oct. 27 at Dobson Field at D'Youville (4th Street, Buffalo).
Preview: Expect a close clash Saturday afternoon at D'Youville, where Jim Hesch's Spartans, the No. 3 seed in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference, face Franciscan, the No. 6 seed. The two teams tied, 0-0, after 110 minutes on Oct. 20 in Ohio. Senior goalkeeper Megan Dulniak stopped 11 shots in that clean sheet, one of six shutouts on the season.
Challenging the squad in the non-conference schedule - in which DYC went 0-8 - Hesch saw his side grow in confidence in the 5-2-2 AMCC campaign, and shots began to find the back of the net, with speedy sophomore striker Makenna Magee potting four goals in a 5-0-1 stretch to begin conference play.
Scoring has evaporated since that spell, however, with the Spartans blanked in their last three conference matches. An early goal against Franciscan on Saturday would do a lot for the team's confidence.
Fredonia at Potsdam
1 p.m. Oct. 27 at SUNY Potsdam (44 Pierrepont Ave., Potsdam).
Preview: After winning their first three SUNYAC contests, Chris Case's Blue Devils enter the tournament in a slump, going 0-5-1 in their final six conference matches. Saturday's foe is a familiar one, as Potsdam knocked off Fredonia, 3-1, to close the regular season.
Still, a trip to the quarterfinals means progress for Fredonia, as the side hadn't qualified for the SUNYAC Tournament since 2014, when the Blue Devils fell to Buffalo State in penalty kicks in the quarterfinals.
What's more exciting? Aside from senior midfielder Abby Price, the team's leading scorer, and backup goalkeeper Kendall Owczarzak, Fredonia returns everyone next year.
Erie Community College vs. Herkimer Community College
3 p.m. Oct. 28 at Tompkins-Cortland Community College (170 North St., Dryden, NY).
Preview: Gary Boughton's Kats, ranked No. 1 in the country in NJCAA Division III, made quick work of North Country Community College, 6-0, to set up a compelling Region 3A championship clash against Herkimer, whose furious late rally ECC staved off for a 5-4 Kats win in the regular season. Herkimer is ranked ninth nationally.
Should ECC triumph Sunday, here's the layout of the NJCAA D3 National Tournament, hosted this year Nov. 8-11 in Rockford, Ill. The Kats finished fifth in the National Tournament last season, falling to Rowan in the quarterfinals before winning their final two matches in the losers' bracket.