By Canio Marasco
The Griffs achieved a feat that many previous Canisius soccer teams can’t match – reaching the semifinals of the MAAC tournament.
In their first playoff game, the Griffs traveled to Marist to play the Red Foxes. The Griffs started the game quickly, as junior Eric Strauchen scored for the Griffs just two minutes into the game. Starting quickly has been something the Griffs have focused on this year and has been a large factor in their unbeaten streak towards the end of the season. The goal by Strauchen allowed the strength of the Griffs and their defense to take control of the game.
Through the first half, play was rather even as shots totaled in favor of the Griffs, 7-5. In the 62nd minute, junior Mathew Santos scored to put the game out of reach. The Griffs’ strong defense ensured the victory, easily handling all eight of the Red Foxes’ shots.
With the 2-0 win over Marist, the Griffs advanced to the semifinals for the first time since the 2007 season. The Griffs traveled to Quinnipiac to play the Bobcats, a team that they had lost to in overtime, 1-0, on Oct. 8. The game started poorly for the Griffs, who looked nervous and were unable to start the game quickly. The hesitant play led to several chances for the Bobcats, which they capitalized in the fourteenth minute to open the scoring. Five minutes later, the Bobcats broke through the Griffs’ defense to extend their lead. Following halftime, the Griffs settled into the game and appeared to be more comfortable. Senior Thomas Tuepen was able to score for Canisius in the 52nd minute. All hopes of a comeback were dashed as the Bobcats responded with a goal five minutes later. The Griffs were subsequently knocked out of the playoffs, falling to the Bobcats by a score of 3-1.
“I think nerves got the better of us in the first half. We simply did not play well,” Head Coach Dermot McGrane stated on the team’s performance in the semifinal. “The field conditions weren’t good – there was really heavy wind, which we had at our backs, but we couldn’t take advantage of it. We settled in during the second half, but at that point, it was too little too late.”
To say this season wasn’t a success for the Griffs because they didn’t win the semifinal game and advance to the championship game would be crazy. Although they weren’t able to make the championship game, the season is certainly a positive indication of where the Canisius program is heading.
“We qualified for the playoffs, which has not been done [in] an awful long time. Also, we won a playoff game against a very good team,” Coach McGrane said on the success of the season. “We made progress. We weren’t satisfied with the way the season finished up, but we took a big step in the right direction.”
The Griffs, under Coach McGrane, have certainly progressed to be one of the better teams in the MAAC. Since he took over in 2011, the Griffs have steadily risen in wins each successive year. In his first year, the Griffs only won two conference games. This year, at the culmination of several recruiting classes, the Griffs were able to total five conference wins, including their first round win over the Red Foxes. The current graduating class of seniors were all recruited by Coach McGrane and, as all of their careers come to an end at Canisius, they will go down as one of the most winning classes in Griffs history.
“This has been building since I got here. Each year our recruiting classes get better and better, so we have a very talented group of players.” Coach McGrane said. “We’re well balanced – we’re good in the back, we’re not easily scored on and we found ways to find goals at the end of the season.”
“We were lacking a natural goal scorer,” McGrane said. Despite the success, there are still some issues the Griffs need to address in the offseason. “If you add that in, we’re suddenly a next level team and we’re winning it all. I think that was definitely the biggest weakness.”
The Griffs defense was one of the best units in the MAAC. For this reason, the Griffs were still successful despite the lack of scoring. At the beginning of the season it seemed apparent that junior Hakeem Milson would take over the striker position. However, at the end of the season, he only totaled three goals. The Griffs were able to find goals in other places – for example, Santos had three goals, Melvin Blair had two, and Tuepen had three. The problem is that none of these players are a true striker or fit the mold of a “number nine.” Finding a natural goal scorer to fill the striker position is something that could put a defensively stout Griffs team in the MAAC championship next season.
With solid recruiting, coaching, and talent, the Griffs have turned into one of the better teams in the MAAC. Possibly the biggest contributor to the Griffs successful season was senior center back Thomas Tuepen. At the conclusion of the season, he was given the honor of MAAC Defensive Player of the Year. On top of that, he also received first-team all-MAAC honors along with Blair. This marks the first time in history that two players from Canisius were named to the all-MAAC first-team – a nice recognition to finish off a successful season.
“It’s nice to be recognized within the conference. I personally think that they are two of the best players in the league,” McGrane stated. “It was nice for them to get a reward for how well they performed. I honestly think we should have more players on there, we’re kind of isolated from the other schools. They all know each other’s players better meaning it’s harder for our guys to get recognized – so, to get two of them on was a really good.”