Rebounding from a disappointing season doesn’t happen easily, and so far, the Binghamton University volleyball team has struggled to turn the page. After missing the America East tournament last year for the first time since 2003, the Bearcats have dropped six of their first seven nonconference matches to open the 2012 season.
Binghamton (1-6) picked up its first win of the year against Fordham University on Aug. 25 after opening the season with three straight losses to Boston College, Texas Tech University and Siena College at the Boston College Invitational. Last weekend, BU struggled again at the Maryland Invitational, falling in straight sets to Ohio State University and host University of Maryland before losing in five sets to Seton Hall University.
Despite the rough start, head coach Glenn Kiriyama said he has already seen improvement from his team from one weekend to the next.
“We played much better [at the Maryland Invitational] than we did the first weekend, and there was actually improvement throughout this tournament, all the way to our last [match] with Seton Hall. It was good to see that,” Kiriyama said. “I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
After losing much of their core to graduation after the 2010 season, the Bearcats struggled with the inexperience of a young roster last year, boasting just one senior starter and recording a 5-7 record in conference play. But the lack of veterans resulted in more playing time for the team’s underclassmen, and then-freshman outside hitter Kristin Hovie and classmate Amanda Dettmann started regularly. Kiriyama said he believes the experience should help the team this year.
“We’ve got some girls with some experience now,” Kiriyama said. “Our middle is probably our most experienced position right now and we got a lot of production out of them [on Saturday] and we need them to keep stepping up and start showing everyone else the way. And then our freshmen from last year, we want them also to step up … we’re looking upon all of them to sort of lead the team.”
Senior middle blocker Alex Roland and junior Xiomara Ortiz top the list of returners for the Bearcats after they each earned second team all-conference honors last year. Senior outside hitter Iva Partaleva, who led the team in kills last season, is also expected to play a large role.
Something each of the Binghamton returners now brings to the table is a new distaste for missed opportunities. The Bearcats watched their postseason hopes fall short in the last game of the regular season as they fell to University of New Hampshire. Kiriyama said he believes his team is more motivated to get back to the tournament this year because of it.
“A lot of [the players] have expressed … that they’re motivated this year because they didn’t make it last year,” he said. “It’s just that feeling of not playing. A couple of them mentioned to me the feeling of not playing while others are playing for the title; it wasn’t a good feeling and they didn’t want to experience that again, so they’re pretty motivated, a lot of them.”
The Bearcats were selected to finish tied for fifth in the coaches’ preseason poll this year, but Kiriyama said they will have to exceed those expectations if they hope to reach the postseason.
“We want to get to the conference tournament so we need to finish in the top four and that’s our goal,” Kiriyama said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us and we know it’s gonna be a tough road and we find that as a challenge and something to motivate us.”
Binghamton is set to resume play this Friday and Saturday at the Zips Invitational at the University of Akron. BU is scheduled to take on Youngstown State University at 11 a.m. Friday before facing off against the University of Akron at 7 p.m. The Bearcats are set to close the weekend at noon on Saturday against SIU-Edwardsville.