It’s early, but the America East women’s soccer coaches might need to rethink their preseason rankings, which put Binghamton University in eighth. After shutting out Lehigh University in Sunday’s home opener, the Bearcats have defeated three of their four opponents and now sport a 3-1 record.
As the results have indicated so far, Binghamton head coach Sarah McClellan said there is no reason to pay attention to the preseason poll.
“I think preseason rankings are sometimes just silly,” she said. “It doesn’t really bother us. We aren’t focused on [the] preseason poll. We’re kind of just ignoring it.”
And ignoring it has helped the Bearcats to shutouts over Bucknell University, Niagara University and Lehigh. The only blemish so far is a 3-0 loss to St. Joseph’s University, a team better than most of the remaining competition on Binghamton’s schedule.
According to McClellan, the 2012 Bearcats have more potential than last year’s semifinalist. A solid core has returned, and McClellan said her team could reach the conference finals.
“I think we’re a much better team than last year and that our players understand our system better,” she said.
With 12 seniors and eight juniors on the roster, the Bearcats have a large upperclassman presence. Asked to single out key players at each position, McClellan only listed seniors: Meghan Campbell in the backline, Brittany Walsh and Emily Pape at midfield and Kerry Sullivan, Jamie Holliday and Sarah Furminger at forward.
“With our seniors and juniors, that’s where we really need to rely on their experience and have them set an example of maturity and professionalism on the field,” McCellan said.
But as important as those senior leaders are, McClellan said her team needs to be cohesive as a unit, meaning everyone needs to contribute.
“I can’t say that one person has to be more of a leader,” she said. “It’s really going to be a group effort, and we need all of our players who are out on the field at any given time to really collaborate together.”
The Bearcat defense was the team’s strongest point last year, allowing just 15 goals in 18 games, and only Boston University and University of New Hampshire scored more than one goal against McClellan’s team.
This year, that same tenacious defense has been a staple of the Bearcats’ approach.
Bucknell outshot Binghamton 17-8, but junior goalkeepers Carrie Martin and Stephanie Speirs combined for seven saves and the Bearcats capitalized on their opportunities. Binghamton scored less than 13 minutes into the game via a goal by Walsh, and Pape then followed with a goal of her own. Junior Conor O’Brien put the finishing touch on the 3-0 victory with a goal in the 77th minute.
Against Niagara, the Bearcats didn’t score until the 56th minute, but Furminger’s goal was the difference in the 1-0 win.
“With such an early season start, we’re still learning and getting better,” McClellan said. “But I think three road games is definitely a challenge and pushes the limits of our team, and I thought we handled that challenge and pressure really well with Bucknell and Niagara.”
Binghamton struggled against St. Joseph’s, falling down early and failing to score. McClellan said her team was “not on our game.”
But an eight-day break between the St. Joseph’s loss and the home opener proved to be key. McClellan said Binghamton benefited from the extra training, and the result was a 4-0 win over Lehigh, marking the first time the Bearcats netted four goals in a game since Oct. 4, 2007 against the University of Vermont.
The Bearcats came out rusty after the break from game action but hit their stride with a goal by Holliday in the 19th minute. Furminger scored the next two, both coming in the second half, and junior Sophie Sylla found the back of the net in the 84th minute.
“4-0 is a convincing win, but we still want to get better,” McClellan said. “We have not by any means arrived, but we are on our way.”
Binghamton is next scheduled to host Siena College at 6 p.m. Friday at the Bearcats Sports Complex.