Following a long offseason over the winter, spring and summer, the Binghamton volleyball team is finally gearing up to return to the court for the 2019 season. Though the team possesses some steep holes to fill with the departures of several key players from last season, the Bearcats have some returning players primed and ready to fill that gap.

“We’ve got some good returners back,” said BU head coach Glenn Kiriyama. “They’ve been working hard. We’ve just got to keep working hard for the rest of this preseason, and I think that we’ll be good to go here.”

Of the departures from last season, replacing three specific players is where the Bearcats will face their steepest challenge. Former America East (AE) Player of the Year Gaby Alicea, along with outside hitter Erin Schultz and middle hitter Lexi LaGoy, combined for 720 kills last season — 70 percent of the team’s total on the season. They also combined for 843 points.

“We’re hoping that our returners that we have coming back can step it up a little bit,” Kiriyama said. “And they have improved a little bit through the offseason. They’re working hard this preseason … We lost a lot of our offense, with both of our outsides graduating, and we’re hoping that some of these outsides that haven’t played much will be able to step in right away and contribute.”

Returning for Binghamton is the team’s key setter from last season, sophomore Kiara Adams, who recorded 638 of the team’s assists. On the defensive side, the team’s leader in blocks from 2018, sophomore middle blocker Tyra Wilson, said she is ready for the bigger role she will assume on this year’s team, and believes the Bearcats are ready for competition.

“Overall, with our team, I think we’re doing pretty well,” Wilson said. “We’re coming together pretty strong. Obviously, we have lulls, but we’re really good at snapping out of them, and everyone is really supportive of each other.”

Last season, the Bearcats only managed to win five of their 25 contests. With only three victories in 12 total AE matches, the team missed out on AE postseason play as well. Though such a record can be demoralizing, the team knows exactly what it needs to improve upon to better last season’s record.

“We’re gonna need to be a lot more consistent with our ball control,” Kiriyama said. “Hopefully, that’ll help our offense come around a little bit better, and we’re gonna need to be a really good serving team this year and be able to serve pretty hard and get [our opponents] out of their system.”

In the 2019 AE Preseason Coaches’ Poll, the Bearcats were picked to finish last in the conference, where a total of six teams compete. The Stony Brook volleyball team is the near-unanimous pick to finish atop the conference. BU will not have the chance to defy that low expectation until October, when conference play begins.

Until then, the Bearcats will participate in several nonconference tournaments that will encompass the first month of their season. The first of these is the Delaware Classic, hosted by the University of Delaware. The Bearcats have three games slated for this competition, starting with their season-opening match against Coppin State. The season opener against the Eagles is slated for 4 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 30 at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark, Delaware.