After bumpy beginning, Nick Forrester key component of UB men’s soccer defense

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Transition is never easy.

For sophomore defender Nick Forrester, the first month of his tenure at UB was nothing short of constant change. The New Zealand native who had transferred from Butler University was adjusting to a new school and playing with a new cast of teammates.

But now Forrester, who was touted as one of the best new players on the 2015 squad, has finally adjusted and is one of more important members of the Bulls (5-5-3, 0-1 Mid-American Conference) a little more than halfway through the season.

“There was an adjustment period, for sure,” Forrester said. “You go to one school, make friends and then you switch to an even bigger school with better competition, I had to adjust. But I found it to be the right move.”

Forrester has been a fixture in the back of Buffalo’s defense. In 12 games played this season, Forrester’s one goal may not jump off the stat sheet, but his biggest contributions lie in his hustle and defense. His tough style of play can be seen in his five yellow cards, which is tied with junior midfielder Braden Culver for the team lead.

His play in the field has been “excellent,” according to head coach Stu Riddle and is vital to the Bulls’ success in the second half of the season.

“This entire recruiting class has been phenomenal and Nick is part of the reason why,” Riddle said. “Nick [Forrester] has been able to come in and provide us with some stability in the backend. He’s been more than an important cog for us on defense.”

But upon arrival, Forrester had to deal with an adjustment period. The first step was the transition from his old school to UB.

Last season, Forrester played just six games, with five starts, for Butler. Forrester has already started 12 games for the Bulls this season. It was the chance to start that made the transfer “the right choice,” according to Forrester.

“At Butler, I didn’t get as much playing time as I thought I would get,” Forrester said, “but here, I got to play right away and be a valuable member to the team.”

While Forrester was dealing with the transition to a new school, Buffalo’s on-field adjustments were a work in progress as well. After starting the season 2-0, the Bulls endured a seven-game winless streak.

It was mostly an offensive problem as the Bulls scored five goals in that seven-game stretch. But untimely allowed goals also doomed Buffalo in the second half of those games. In total, the Bulls gave up eight goals in the second half or overtime during the losing streak.

“We had some things we needed to work out,” Forrester said. “There were times where we needed to figure it out on the field and it hurt us a bit. Coming into the new environment with a back line already set defensively, our younger guys were still learning … I was still learning the system.”

After a 1-1 double-overtime tie against Stony Brook, the Bulls were crestfallen. But they were in most of the games they had lost or tied and the defense “kept [them] in the game,” according to Riddle.

“We just didn’t have the luck, which was a big part of it,” Riddle said. “Nick was still working his way into the system and learning what was expected from him, but so was other players on the team. We were playing well, but we couldn’t get over the hump at times. Still, we knew we were going to eventually get the luck and our players would continue to play well.”

It wasn’t as much luck as it was good timing. Forrester was a clear factor when he entered the program. But it was a shaky start. Now that he knows the system, success was proven on the field.

“We’ve just begun to gel on the field,” Forrester said. “I think the top line was, as they played with each other for the last two years. Then, you would have the next group of defenders come in and we were still learning … I was still learning. Once we got familiar to where we needed to be, it started to click defensively for us.”

Buffalo lost its first game since Sept. 18 in a 2-1 loss to No. 8 Akron (9-2-1, 1-0 MAC) on Friday after a streak of four straight games without a loss (2-0-2).

With four games remaining in the 2015 regular season, the Bulls have one goal: finishing strong in MAC play. Forrester will try to keep up his defensive play, but he has one or two more goals in mind.

“No question, I want to continue to help this team win games in the conference,” Forrester said. “But I also would like to get one or two more to go into the net.”

Quentin Haynes is the senior sports editor and can be reached at quentin.haynes@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Haynes_Spectrum.