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Fall Olympic Sports Wrap up

UB Athletics

Last year's essay-length season wrap ups didn't really move the needle, so much so that I didn't do them in the spring. Instead, with all Fall sports done for a few digestive weeks and Bulls fans firmly into the December slow zone, let's take a survey of the programs heading into 2016.

Men's Cross Country

Record/Result: 6th at MAC Championships, 18th at Northeast Regionals, ranked as high as 9th in the Northeast

Trend: Considering in-season injuries and impending graduation, even to slightly up

Departures: Cameron Bruce, Austin Coneys, Brian Crimmins, Derek Palafox, Frankie Pfeil, and Tyler Scheving are all seniors. Bruce, Coneys, Palafox, and Scheving were all regulars in UB's top groups this year. Crimmins may be eligible for medical redshirt.

Key returners: There's plenty of exciting young talent that counterbalances the seniors. Jack Jibb at this point needs no introduction, but Barrett Kemp, Justin Van Epps, and Andrew Berge have all put together big races in their careers.

In line for a bigger role: Don't sleep on sophomore-to-be Adam Hunt, who improved over the season to finish second for the Bulls at the conference championships and make the trip to New York for Regional.

Bottom line: Injuries over the last month hurt this team just as it hit a program high in the regional rankings. The top five with some improvement and health can keep the momentum going despite losses, but worst case is still a strong building year.

Women's Cross Country

Record/Result: 5th at MAC Championships, 15th at Northeast Regionals, ranked as high as 14th in the Northeast

Trend: Undeniably up; UB had finished 7th in MAC three years running and returns all key personnel.

Departures: Maggie Russell, Danielle Vasquez, and Meaghan Wessel will graduate. None played a significant role this past season.

Key returners: Unlike the men, the women were remarkably consistent in their top group over the final month, with only Rachel Barich dropping out after finishing second among the Bulls at Pre-Nationals. With so many coming back, it's hard to whittle much down, but Barich, Chardae Henry, Amy Shaw, Corinne Birchard, and Morgan Mahoney would be my guess at a scoring five.

In line for a bigger role: Don't sleep on Melinda Wheeler, Bailey Kemp, Charlotte Molloy, Meagan Hopkins or Brittany Fuller, who could all also hit the scoring five. There's so much experience in this squad.

Bottom line: Be excited for this group, which returns everyone, is loaded for the next two years, and will be coming off a five-year high already.

Men's Soccer

Record/Result: 8-7-4, 2-2-1 MAC, advanced to conference final (L, 1-0 to #4 Akron)

Trend: Way up, but there's a big jump from the moral victory of a one-goal loss to Akron to finding a path into the NCAA Tournament.

Departures: Marcus Hanson is the biggest, but variably-used subs Dylan Cope and Nicolay Netskar are also gone.

Key returners: MAC POTY Russell Cicerone, of course, along with the full defensive group and keeper Joseph Kuta

In line for a bigger role: Scott Doney fell off later in the season, but will need to step into the Hanson role. Ryan Pereira should return from injury in the midfield, and Daniel Cramarossa's effectiveness in MAC play shows he may be in line for something bigger.

Bottom line: I've said it in a few places now, but this was my 2016 goal for this group: a chance for an anything-can-happen game against Akron in the MAC Championship. But for some bad-luck finishing on the road in Texas and Rhode Island, this group might have had double-digit wins.

No matter how you slice it, next year is a high point for Riddle's program as his first two recruiting classes hit their peak. UB will have eight seniors and seven juniors, likely playing few underclassmen. Unfortunately, the MAC is all-or-nothing right now after both Bowling Green and Western Michigan spent time ranked, and Akron still looms far overhead. Could Stu put together a schedule for a run at an at large bid?

Women's Soccer

Record/Result: 11-7-3, 7-3-1 MAC, advanced to conference semifinal for second straight year (L, 0-1 to WMU)

Trend: Even, but from the top of the conference

Departures: Leading scorer Kassidy Kidd, top defender Jackie Hall, defensive starter Kristin Markiewicz, and occasionally-used subs N'DEA JOHNSON and McKenzie White. The defense will need bigtime retooling, but for as much as I'm a fan of Kidd, there's more in the wings up top.

Key returners: Julia Benati took a huge step forward from an already-strong freshman year. Laura Dougall is Laura Dougall, still excellent as she faced more shots. Celina Carrero, Carissima Cutrona, Andrea Niper and Brianna Shingary add plenty of pop to the lineup.

In line for a bigger role: The defense needs retooling. Look for Meghan Simmons and Angel Hart to step inside. All three of Dana Lytle, Rebecca Bramble, and Nicole Gerritz have earned more time in the offense if the combination is right.

Bottom line: 2015 showed UB fans just how special 2014 was, as the group took longer to find its groove and ultimately fell by just a single goal to eventual champion WMU. The losses this year aren't any worse than after 2014, and Buffalo still has plenty of returning talent to stay among the top tier in the conference.

Men's Tennis

Fall Highlights: For the second straight fall, UB won half the flights at WMU's MAC Invitational to close out the fall. Other competitions were up and down, but freshman Ethan Nittolo looks like he'll step into the top three singles spots, while everyone else looks to have gotten steadier.

Trend: Even. I wouldn't predict another MAC Championship, but UB has a habit of getting to the final and is loaded with seniors this year.

Departures: Damien David and Sebastien Ionescu are both big losses from the top half of the single lineup. Balaji Lakhshmanan transferred away and I'm not sure where Jonathan Hannestad went but neither were big players last year.

Key returners: Pablo Alvarez will step into the first singles slot, and look for Sergio Arevalillo and Noah Hajdu-Andersson to continue providing solid depth.

In line for a bigger role: I mentioned the freshman Nittolo. Amar Hromic also looks much improved and inline for a spot at second or third singles.

Bottom line: With four seniors, all of whom will likely be in the singles lineup, UB has to be looking at another championship this season, though the squad isn't as top-loaded this year. That said, it was depth that carried the team into the MAC Tournament last season.

Women's Tennis

Fall Highlights: Freshman Chantal Martinez-Blanco looks tremendous, while Tanja Stojanovksa has maintained her conference Freshman of the Year form. The singles depth looks much improved.

Trend: Up. This program is poised for a big step forward in the next two years.

Departures: Laura Fernandez is gone to graduated, and Doris Aleksvoska transferred out. The former was important in singles and had good chemistry with Laura Holterbosch in doubles, while the latter didn't play much of a role in Sprin 2015.

Key returners: Stojanovska and Margarita Kotok would be one of the better one-two pairings UB's had in a while on their own. Laura Holterbosch and Christine Haraldson are solid depth options in singles and good doubles teammates as the pairings settle out.

In line for a bigger role: Haraldson, for sure, and perhaps Daiana Agasieva.

Bottom line: This group is going to have a top three that can compete with anyone in the MAC. Stojanovska was very strong at first singles last year, and Martinez-Blanco joins her at the top of the lineup. Whatever the order of those two and Kotok, opponents will be overwhelmed at second and third singles.

Last year UB snuck into the MAC Tournament. This year I expect a firmer situation as the year winds down.

Volleyball

Record/Result: 7-22 (6-10 MAC)

Trend: Up, though only slightly

Departures: Megan Lipski, Akeila Lain, and Marissa Prinzbach, three day-one starters, will all graduate. It's a big chunk, though not as devastating as last offseason.

Key returners: Madison Clark grew by leaps and bounds this season, Megan Wernette was successful from the get-go, lessening the loss of Amber Hatchett, who will be back next year as an experienced senior to join Wernette and Cassie Shado.

In line for a bigger role: Clark for sure, and Valisha Watkins, as for the second straight season UB loses their top outside hitter.

Bottom line: A full year removed, the Reed Sunahara era looks to have done more harm than good, sapping the program of talent across three classes, but Blair Brown Lipsitz far outstripped expectations, especially in MAC play, where the Bulls matched their program best mark of the last two seasons. Next year's team won't be quite so young will be more experienced, and benefits in a way from Amber Hatchett's 2015 injury that spreads out the scholarship distribution a bit.