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Ready for redemption: Top-seeded Michigan Bucks aiming for regional title

| July 29, 2011 | Comments (1)

BY DAN STICKRADT

SENIOR EDITOR

dan.stickradt@northoaklandsports.com

PONTIAC — Simon Omeknada and Mitch Hildebrandt remember walking off the field last July with a bitter taste in their mouths.

The Michigan Bucks teammates were victim of a controversial call, which enabled the Thunder Bay Chill to rally past the visiting Bucks, 3-2, in the USL-Premier Developmental League Central Conference regional finals.

Thunder Bay went on to become the North American runner-up. The Bucks ended their season one game short of the Final Four.

This season the Bucks, who were North American champs in 2006 and runners-up in 2007, are hoping for a different result.

Michigan won the Great Lakes Division of the Central Conference in the regular season and drew the No. 1 seed for the regional July 29-30. The Bucks also get a chance to host the four-team tournament this weekend.

The Chicago Fire Premier and Thunder Bay Chill will meet at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the first regional semifinal, while the Bucks will entertain the Des Moines Menace at 8 p.m. This is the first time since 2008 that the Bucks — who are making their 14th postseason appearance in 16 seasons — are hosting a postseason game and they are trying to get beyond the first weekend of the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

“We remember (that loss),”sighed Omekanda, the former Mr. Soccer for Rochester Adams and standout with Penn State who played in that game last season against Thunder Bay.

This time the Bucks don’t have to worry about a 16-hour bus ride to the Thunder Bay, which hosted the Central Conference regional a year ago.

“It’s a lot nicer hosting,” smiled Omeknda. “Besides the travel, there’s a lot of other things you don’t have to worry about. You don’t have to get out of work, you don’t have to worry about school — some of these guys have classes that they would have to get out of. It’s so much easier when you don’t have to travel.”

“We’re liking the idea of hosting, we don’t have to worry about all of the other stuff and travel,” offered Bucks coach Gary Parsons. “But we still have to show up. Everybody left is a quality team.

“I like our chances, especially playing at home,” reminded Parsons, whose team has yet to surrender a goal in a Michigan-based game this season. “We are playing some pretty good soccer right now. We seem to have gotten over that middle of the season (hiccup) where we lost one and tied one. We’re playing much better. We have a lot of depth and we have a lot of options of guys to bring in.”

Hildebrandt, one of the PDL’s top goalkeepers, feels his team is ready for some redemption. A win Friday could possibly set up a rematch with the Thunder Bay Chill on Saturday.

“I think we have a team that can do some damage in the postseason,” said Hildebrandt, the starting goalkeeper in last year’s postseason, where the Bucks finished 1-1. “Last year was kind of rough, losing the way we did when we had a late lead and then lost in overtime. We’ve got a great mix of older guys and younger guys. Guys that were here last year. Everything is just coming together for us. Everybody is playing their hearts out right now.

“Hosting is one of those big things for us. Going up to Thunder Bay last season, we had to drive to Toronto, then fly to Thunder Bay. It was just a long trip,” continued Hildebrandt. “Staying here, we get to sleep in our own beds, we get to eat at home and do our normal routines. It’s just so much easier. We can prepare for the tournament and not have to worry about all of the other (details). It really does make a big difference.”

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Category: Campus Clips, Colleges / Other, Michigan Bucks

About Dan Stickradt: DAN STICKRADT | SENIOR EDITOR dan.stickradt@northoaklandsports.com View author profile.

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