BUFFALO – Buckle up. This could be a wild ride.
These two bottom-seven seeds have been rolling along like favorites so far, setting up what could be an epic, three-day rollercoaster.
The Bulls looked like they were going to be a contender in the CLC, splitting ranked contests with UNH and UConn before their spring break go short-circuited.
D-I Quarters: Tennessee at Buffalo | https://t.co/Urtiv1iHAh #virtualmcla20
— MCLA Tournament '21 (@MCLA_Tournament) April 20, 2020
Coming off a 1-8 campaign in 2019, the Volunteers were having a breakout this spring. Tennessee was 8-2 and already clinched its first winning season since 2012 when a bat ended the campaign.
Each of these contenders had an under-the-radar senior who made their success happen.
For Tennessee, it was defensive midfielder Zach Freeland.
"First and foremost, Zach was the consummate glue-guy for our team — a dedicated teammate who was always there for his teammates, both on and off the field,” said Tennessee coach Tyler Corcoran. “He was the definition of a leader and as important as any person in our program when it comes to developing team chemistry.”
A product of Mauldin High School in Greenville, S.C., Freeland will graduate with a degree in Civil Engineering and has a gig lined up with Duke Energy in Charlotte.
“Zach is just a competitor — plain and simple,” said Corcoran. “He was instrumental in turning around the culture of the program. Few, if any, did more to instill a competitive atmosphere at our practices than Zach. Whether it was a ground ball drill or team sprints, I knew Zach would do whatever he could to win. His competitive attitude inspired his teammates and helped set a new standard at practice."
For Buffalo, it was Aaron Fanti.
A four-year starter for the Bulls, Fanti earned the nickname “Gritty Ron” for his ability to rebound from nagging injuries to be there for his teammates.
A hometown boy and Nichols School grad, Fanti could have hung it up after missing the last five games of 2019 and all of fall ball with a pair shoulder surgeries and a wrist surgery.
But there he was on the first day of practice.
“He’s a bit of a Swiss army knife as a player,” said Buffalo coach Ryan Crawford. “He started his career as an attackman, but was a top six offensive midfielder this season. We also had him play the wing on faceoffs and defensive midfield during key defensive possessions.
“When starting attackman Dylan Krieg was injured in the second quarter of our UConn game, Aaron filled in admirably on attack, contributing a goal and two assists, including the game winning assist in double OT.
“He was also a team captain and officer. A player who filled so many roles, he will be missed and impossible to replace.”
The last team into the tournament, No. 32 Tennessee has obliterated both top-seeded Cal Poly and No. 17 Colorado State with huge vote totals.
No. 25 Buffalo cruised to comfortable wins over defending national champion South Carolina and No. 24 Florida with some impressive totals, as well.
Whoever advances to the semifinals will be considered the favorite to take the whole thing down.