The year of the Bulls

Students have reason to be optimistic about UB sports

On August 28, 2013

At head football coach Jeff Quinn's press conference on Tuesday, I noticed something very different in his demeanor from past seasons.

After three seasons in which he has been unable to commit to a starting quarterback prior to the first snap of the season, he spoke openly and frankly with the media regarding not just who would be starting at Ohio State on Saturday, but injuries as well.

It does help when there is only one player entering the season with a serious injury - freshman running back Jordan Johnson, who will most likely miss the entire year because of elbow surgery - but it's still a marked change from Quinn's close-to-the-chest mentality from the past three seasons. It also isn't something that is limited to the football program.

Say what you want about Athletic Director Danny White, but he has brought a swagger to this athletic department that wasn't here before.

White's new mentality coupled with the talent returning on every team means this could be a special year not just for the football and men's basketball teams but for every team.

There are obvious names that make Buffalo fans swell with pride, like senior linebacker Khalil Mack and senior forward Javon McCrea. But there are lesser-known athletes who have just as good a chance to reel in a Mid-American Conference Championship.

Senior goalkeeper Ainsley Wheldon and junior midfielder Courtney Mann are some of the best of a talented group that contributed to a 12-win season for the women's soccer team two years ago. After a disappointing season last year that saw the team fail to reach the MAC Tournament, this year's senior class has one last shot at a MAC title.

The men's soccer team has a new head coach in Stu Riddle, who has already proven his ability to win in the MAC. In four years at Western Michigan, Riddle went 33-36-9. His signature moment as a Bronco? Upsetting defending national champion Akron in the 2011 MAC Tournament semifinals.

The volleyball team is incredibly top heavy, with six seniors and just two freshmen. Two years ago, it was one of the youngest teams in the country. Now the freshmen and sophomores who gained experience have the opportunity to win the program's first MAC Championship as seniors.

Every fall team seems to be laden with talent, but it doesn't stop there.

The women's swimming and diving team returns two-time defending MAC Swimmer of the Year senior Britney Kuras, and the men return defending 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly champion junior Mike Dugan.

The baseball team graduated MAC Player of the Year Jason Kanzler and two other starters last spring, but the talent the squad returns is even more impressive.

Both sophomore Tyler Mautner - who set the single-season record for most doubles in a season in the spring - and senior Mike Burke were named to Perfect Game's Summer College All-America Team for their performances this summer.

Also, senior Matt Pollock will return to the field after redshirting last season because of a broken bone in his hand. Pollock was a first team All-MAC selection in 2012 and a preseason first-team All-MAC selection in 2013.

In just over a year, White has hired five new coaches, and though it's the goal of every athletic department to win championships, White is expecting his teams to win championships. That's something new for Buffalo.

The more time you spend around White and hear him talk about his "new mark," which prominently features the words "New York," the more you get the impression White came to Buffalo because he thinks Buffalo's athletics program is a sleeping dragon.

"We're not selling who we are right now," White said Tuesday. "We are selling what we aspire to become, and this place has unprecedented potential because of our institutional profile."

That institutional profile White talks about is Buffalo's status as a member of the Association of American Universities, of which Buffalo is the only member with FBS athletics that isn't in a BCS conference.

It seems that a combination of talent and swagger have set the Bulls up for unprecedented success. White has taken the first step in waking the sleeping dragon.



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