The second half swing: Cicerone, Bulls look for strong MAC showing in hopes for a conference title

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It’s the nature of sports for players to go on streaks – hot or cold.

It’s just as likely for a player to have a scoreless streak as it is for a player to have streaks of excellence.

The latter is the case with junior midfielder Russell Cicerone of the men’s soccer team.

The Bulls’ (5-5-3, 0-1 Mid-American Conference) top player endured a three-game stretch in early September where he did not record a point. But like star players does, he has rebounded and started to heat up toward the most important part of the season: conference play.

Cicerone is on a five-game scoring streak to go along with 15 points in that time, including Buffalo’s MAC-opening 2-1 loss to No. 8 Akron (9-2-1, 1-0 MAC) last Friday. If the former MAC Freshman of the Year can keep up the pace, Buffalo may be in great position to finally make the conference tournament under third-year head coach Stu Riddle.

“It’s pleasing to see him hit straps at the right time,” Riddle said. “I said this last year. You see the best out of Russell come MAC time and he’s itching.”

Cicerone has been, without question, the most effective player on the Bulls for the past three seasons. He’s the lead the Bulls in goals, shots on goal and total points in every season he’s been at UB.

His team-leading nine goals, six assists and 20 shots on goal this season speaks for itself.

Cicerone scored three goals of Buffalo’s five goals in MAC play last season.

But his production didn’t equate to team success.

The team went 1-2-2 in MAC play and fell short of making the MAC Tournament. Soccer is a team game. As great as Cicerone was, he couldn’t pull Buffalo to victory by himself. In the MAC games Cicerone scored in, Buffalo won or tied. When he did, Buffalo lost or tied.

Riddle was the first to say this year will be different.

“We’ve seen other guys step up as well,” Riddle said. “Now, there are seven or eight different scorers on the team, which is huge. It’s not a one-man-band, but certainly when Russell is playing well, it lifts everyone and helps everyone.”

The Bulls are equipped with a plethora of new and returning talent, meaning teams can’t just solely focus on Cicerone like they used to.

“Being one of the leading full scorers, they think, ‘If we stop this guy, maybe we can beat Buffalo,’” Cicerone said. “The guys that Stu brought in have helped so much and have taken a lot of pressure off of me. I’m a lot more confident this season.”

With the addition of newcomers Nick Forrester and Hunter Walsh, along with key returners in junior forward Steven Stryker, junior defenders Alec Fisher and Braden Scales and sophomore goalkeeper Joseph Kuta, Buffalo is gearing up for a conference run despite being at the bottom of the standings.

“Obviously, when we win, everything is going good … When we lose, I feel a lot of pressure on myself to do stuff so I might make a few mistakes that I usually won’t make,” Cicerone said. “But we’re pulling together as a team right before conferences. Everyone is playing fast and strong. Everyone has a lot of confidence for MAC play.”

Jordan Grossman is the senior sports editor and can be reached at sports@ubspectrum.com.