It's easy to get over football when the three-hour game is followed by four hours of victory from UB's other sports teams. Tonight fans who stuck around got to see a strong bounce-back win from the volleyball team, who snapped a four-game losing streak, and fans who really stuck around saw the men's soccer team continue their strong play in the month of October with a victory over Northern Illinois.
Volleyball: UB Defeats CMU 25-16, 19-25, 25-21, 25-15
You can tell immediately from the scores, and certainly by the eye test, that UB played a much better match tonight than last, even given their early 2-0 lead in the match against Eastern Michigan. The first set started strongly as possible for any team, let alone one sitting on a two-week losing streak: UB had nine points thanks to a hot start from Tahleia Bishop and Akeila Lain before the Chippewas managed a point themselves.
A nine-point lead is rather easy to maintain in volleyball, and CMU never got closer than seven before the set finished at 25-16. Unlike last night's one-dimensional performance, everyone contributed for Buffalo: Bishop led the way with seven or eight kills, but Megan Lipski added four, and UB's trio of middle blockers in Akeila Lain, Amber Hatchett, and Cassie Shado all contributed in the set.
The second set was demonstrably Central Michigan's. Though UB hit a not-awful .167, CMU committed just one error on 21 swings in the set, as they built an early lead, forced UB to use both timeouts by 13-5, and maintained that lead into the 20's. Buffalo never got closer than five in the set.
It was good, then, to see UB trail only briefly in the consistently close third set on their way to 25-21. Reed Sunahara called a well-timed timeout at 17-16, and though UB gave up three consecutive points out of that stoppage, they scored the next five to build a 22-19 lead. The third set was possibly Cassie Shado's best of the night, as she had four kills and was in on three of Buffalo's five blocks in the set.
For the early part of the fourth set, it looked like the home team would once again head into a fifth set, but UB found an eleven-point run in the middle of the set to build an eight-point lead. A few from Lain, a few erorrs, a few from Bishop, two more from Lain, two memorable aces form Niki Bozinoski, and one more from Bishop for good measure made the ending a mere formality. Five different Bulls accounted for UB's six final points, and UB headed home a winner.
Tonight's offense was the balanced attack we didn't see Friday. Bishop once again led all players with 20 kills, but the three middle blockers combined for 23 themselves and Megan Lipski also had eight from the outside. The Bulls had an excellent blocking match: their 15 blocks were the second-best of the year in that stat and were similarly spread around. The Bulls' front line also had many of those partial blocks that slows an attack down and makes the dig and ensuing attack easier and more fluid.
Once again senior Sable Staller did not see much of the ball despite holding serve as the team's most efficient hitter with five kills on just nine swings, while also adding four assisted blocks. It wasn't all that detrimental tonight, and Cassie Shado is playing too well not to get in there, but while I'm not sure how I would find the space for Staller, I would like to see more.
One other area that I'd like to highlight is UB's service game, which was less-than-excellent: Niki Boz's two aces in the fourth were the only such aces, and Megan Lin and Tessa Ooyama combined for five of the team's seven errors. In reception UB made five more errors. All told, 15% of Central's points came from UB miscues on serves.
Nonetheless, it was a solid win for UB, the type of win you hope to emulate, not one you feel lucky to squeak out. The Bulls head to the road next weekend for matches against Miami and Bowling Green, and have just six opportunities left to play their way into a MAC Tournament berth.
Men's Soccer: UB defeats NIU, 2-1
I've been lauding the men's soccer team for a few week's now as they continue to improve - and improve quickly - over the course of this season. With today's victory over the Huskies, the Bulls now have results in all three of their MAC contests and are in great position to finish in the top four and play a MAC semifinal game.
I missed the first 25 or so minutes due to overlap from the volleyball game, but I didn't miss a goal, and it seemed when I arrived that both teams were still getting a feel for each other; I had only missed seven or eight shots, none of which were on target.
After NIU hit the UB post in the 34th minute, though, everything started to pick up. Stu Riddle subbed in Nicolai Berry, and over the next six minutes Buffalo got four shots off - three from Berry - and earned two corner kicks. Marcus Hanson pushed a shot high, but the next time UB got the ball, sophomore Russell Cicerone dribbled out of the midfield and lasered a shot into the upper left corner from 25 yards out, a wonderful goal that gave UB the lead only five minutes before the half.
Waleed Cassis was called upon to smother one cross before the horn, but he handled it without issue. The already-late game that didn't start until 9:00 was delayed further when nearby lightning added and extra thirty minutes to the halftime break, but the game restarted and finished the second half without issue.
Without weather issue, I should say. Out of the break Marcus Hanson was unstoppable, creating two or three crossing chances for Cicerone in the span of maybe three minutes. The duo finally broke through for Cicerone's second goal of the game and tenth of the year in the 54th minute, and nearly made it three moments later.
In the meantime, though, the real story of the second half got going. Take a look at this:
Somewhere early in that progression NIU got a goal from Isaac Kannah to get within one, but it became quickly apparent that the Huskies were sooner going to shoot themselves in the foot than land a body blow on the Bulls. For a stretch after the goal, I could barely look at my phone to tweet without looking up to see another Bull on the ground and to hear more invective from the NIU coach.
Kannah was ejected moments after scoring, and two more cards, including another ejection, followed. With only nine men on the field, NIU couldn't do much at all, and their coach voiced his loud displeasure with the (frankly, rather shoddy) referee until the Huskies bench was assessed with two yellows late in the half.
I don't think it's a very arguable point that Buffalo was the benefactor of more of the ref's calls, but they were also whistled for more fouls, none of which involved elbows and collapsing defenders, and enjoyed more shots before NIU went down a man, or two. Regardless, the Bulls did what they needed to do to close out the win and secure a critical three points in MAC play.
With three games in hand, UB's gained results on two teams at the bottom of the pile and one of the better teams in the conference in WMU. Their two remaining matches are both on the road at Akron and West Virginia, who are in place to advance to the MAC Tournament themselves. UB will next play West Virginia in a week, looking to slip into a top-two seed in the conference.
Congratulations are also in order for Waleed Cassis, Kristian Lee-Him, and Vinny DiVirgilio, who finished their UB Stadium career with a victory at the end of their senior season.
Congrats to both the volleyball and men's soccer teams on their victories, and go Bulls!