With a talented senior class, strong leadership and a revamped offensive attack, the Binghamton women’s soccer team returned to campus on Aug. 5 to prepare for its 2019 season. The team has been working to develop chemistry throughout the offseason, and its progress will be tested in tonight’s season opener at home against St. Bonaventure.

“Throughout the spring season, we focused so much on our team chemistry,” said senior defender Lauren Spinnato. “We really brought that in this fall and we really implemented that on the freshmen as well. It seems like we’re getting that team chemistry down, which is making us play much better than we have.”

After a disappointing 2018 campaign that saw the Bearcats falter in conference play after a strong start in the nonconference season, the Binghamton women’s soccer team was picked seventh by the other coaches in this year’s America East (AE) preseason poll.

“We talked about [the poll] very briefly as a team, and I wasn’t going to discuss it again,” said BU head coach Neel Bhattacharjee. “If there’s any team that can show how meaningless some of these preseason polls are, it’s us. The year we won it we were actually predicted to finish next to last.”

The most significant change for this year’s Binghamton squad is a new offensive attack following the graduation of standout forward Kayla Saager, ’18. Saager, the 2017 AE Striker of the Year, scored 11 goals in each of her two seasons as a Bearcat. Earlier this week, she signed a contract to begin her professional career with 1. FC Slovácko in the Czech First League.

“Our attack is going to be more multifaceted, incorporating not just one primary target forward and everyone else in a supporting role, but really a multifaceted attack where we can attack centrally, out wide, in our front line, in the midfield, getting our outside backs involved in the attack,” Bhattacharjee said. “I think what people will see is that it is more of a varied attack and it’s also going to be more unpredictable.”

The balanced offensive attack should allow several returning members of the supporting cast, as well as some newcomers, to score more goals this season. Aside from Saager, the team retains most of its contributors from last season. Junior midfielder Dora Hayes is expected to lead Binghamton’s retooled offensive unit, and Bhattacharjee noted her potential to receive greater scoring opportunities.

Junior defender Erin Theiller leads the unit defensively as a talented playmaker who was named to the second team all-conference as a freshman in 2017. She, along with Spinnato, will anchor the team’s back line.

During the offseason, Spinnato, Theiller and senior midfielder Abby Wick were selected as team captains by their teammates.

“We like to lead by example, the three of us,” Wick said. “We try to encourage other voices to step up. There’s definitely 27 leaders on this team — 27 girls — so it’s not just up to the captains to help lead the team.”

Led by Wick and Spinnato, Binghamton’s current senior class is the first to play its four years entirely under Bhattacharjee’s leadership.

“I think, especially since we’ve been the first group with Neel for four years, we’ve definitely learned how we would like to grow our team culture and establish it,” Wick said. “[We], as a senior class, are really close and we get along really well and that just carries [its] own down to the other classes as we fold them into our team culture.”

The contributions of the group, both on and off the field, have been significant for the team, and Bhattacharjee said she hopes they will help Binghamton develop better chemistry and a more cohesive team this season.

“These are seniors that have been here the whole time since I’ve been here, so it’s really nice that they already know what this program is about — not just from the soccer side, but everything we want to represent as a program,” Bhattacharjee said.

Prior to competing for a playoff spot against its AE opponents, Binghamton will play a nine-game nonconference slate, including a matchup against Georgia of the Southeastern Conference, as well as strong mid-major programs such as American and George Mason.

“It all starts with Thursday night — our focus is on St. Bonaventure,” Bhattacharjee said. “They’re a team that gave us a tough battle last year and certainly we want to make sure that we show well for it being the first athletics contest of the year and second day of classes and giving our students and our fans a good show.”

Kickoff against the Bonnies is set for 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 22 at the Bearcats Sports Complex in Vestal, New York.