Despite returning several players from last year’s America East championship squad, the Binghamton volleyball team finds itself in an underdog role.
The Bearcats, who finished the 2012 season with a 13-18 record, were tabbed at No. 2 in the America East preseason poll behind Albany.
“It doesn’t really matter what we start as, it’s how we finish,” junior setter Amanda Dettmann said. “So it’s just a little extra fire under us now and we’re just ready to do it again.”
Dettmann, who earned America East Co-Setter of the Year honors as a sophomore, led the league with 1,099 assists and helped Binghamton to a conference-best .255 hitting percentage. With five freshmen on this year’s roster, she and the other upperclassmen will be asked for a different kind of assist.
“They’ve sort of taken [the freshmen] under their wing and have been very helpful in trying to teach them our systems and our defense,” head coach Glenn Kiriyama said. “The returners are really experienced, and we’re hoping they’ll provide the leadership throughout the year for us.”
Kiriyama said that hitters Bianca Anderson and Allison Hovie have been the most impressive freshmen thus far. He said that he has never recruited a player with Anderson’s level of athleticism to Binghamton, while Hovie has displayed an all-around skill set.
Early on, though, Kiriyama will need to find the right mix.
“I think my biggest worry is actually the newcomers and where they’re going to fit in and what sort of role they’re going to play,” the two-time America East Coach of the Year said. “The returners we sort of know, but I think there might be a couple of changes here and there and we’re still working it out.”
Senior middle hitter and captain Grace Vickers is one of those returners. A 2012 All-Conference First Team selection, Vickers finished third on the team with 283 kills. Junior outside hitter Kristin Hovie recorded 351 kills last year, a team-high among returning players.
As they did last season, the Bearcats will play in several tournaments in the weeks leading up to the America East slate. Binghamton struggled to a 3-12 mark in non-conference play last year.
This time around, Kiriyama’s squad tips off the season against St. John’s on Aug. 30 at the Colgate Classic. Binghamton will also compete in tournaments at North Carolina State and Columbia before hosting Siena on Sept. 17. The Bearcats, who will conclude non-conference play at Kent State’s Golden Flashes Classic Sept. 20-21, will visit Albany on Sept. 29 for the conference opener and a rematch of last year’s America East championship.
The Bearcats swept the Great Danes to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament, where they fell to volleyball powerhouse Penn State in straight sets.
But before they can return to the NCAAs, the defending conference champions need to capture the America East title.
“Obviously our goal is to make the conference tournament and once we’re there, we reevaluate our goals,” Vickers said. “Everyone wants to win but I think that it’s a good mentality. It’s a thing that we take by the horns and just go for it and do our best every day.”
Binghamton’s season opener against St. John’s is set for 1 p.m. on Aug. 30 at Cotterel Court in Hamilton, N.Y.