After finishing its regular season on Thursday, the Binghamton women’s soccer team entered the America East (AE) Championship as the No. 5 seed. The team traveled to face No. 4 New Hampshire in a road quarterfinal, and its season came to an end Sunday afternoon. The Bearcats (10-6-2, 4-3-1 AE) were defeated by the Wildcats (10-7-0, 5-3-0 AE) in a 3-2 decision.
“Unfortunately, we came off to a slow start,” said BU head coach Neel Bhattacharjee. “The first 30 minutes were in favor of UNH. We were a little bit slow to react at certain moments and as a result we ended up going down 1-0.”
New Hampshire scored the game’s first goal and controlled much of the first half. Nine minutes after the initial goal, the Bearcats scored an equalizer. Freshman midfielder Olivia McKnight chipped a shot over the head of UNH sophomore goalkeeper Cat Sheppard to put the Bearcats on the board.
The teams headed into the halftime break deadlocked at one, despite the fact that the Wildcats controlled much of the half. New Hampshire outshot the Bearcats 13-5 and junior goalkeeper Mackenzie Hanna made six saves throughout the first 45 minutes.
The stats were more even in the second period, but the Bearcats let New Hampshire convert two breakaway opportunities into goals. The Wildcats scored 11 minutes into the half and took a commanding 3-1 lead in the 74th minute.
Binghamton put forth a stronger attack in the game’s final minutes to try and preserve its season. The team converted an opportunity, with junior defender Erin Theiller tipping in a header from McKnight, but it was too little, too late. Time ran out on the Bearcats’ season, and New Hampshire advanced to the semifinals.
“The second half we felt was a pretty competitive half for both teams,” Bhattacharjee said. “Unfortunately, we just left a little too much space behind on both of their goals … I loved how our team didn’t quit. We changed our system of play a bit to try to get two goals back, we got a good goal to cut it down to one and unfortunately time ran out before we could get an equalizer.”
The Bearcats closed out their regular season last Thursday night against UMBC. In a game shortened by intense rain and poor field conditions, the Bearcats came away with a 2-0 victory. If New Hampshire had lost or tied its game that night, Binghamton would have hosted a quarterfinal instead of going on the road.
With its season now complete, Bhattacharjee and the Bearcats will look ahead to the future of the program. While the leadership provided by this year’s senior class was strong, the Bearcats will lose just one consistent starter to graduation this year.
Throughout the season, McKnight’s development as a freshman was a key storyline for the Bearcats. Her goal was her sixth of the season and the assist was her fifth. She finished her freshman season as the Bearcats’ leader in goals, assists and points. She is number one in the AE for shots on goal and is a contender to be named AE Rookie of the Year, a selection that will be announced on Thursday.
In August, her twin sister, freshman midfielder Victoria McKnight, was injured in a scrimmage and forced to redshirt her freshman season. The pair had comparable high school careers, so before even announcing their incoming class, the Bearcats can look forward to a key addition next season.
“Certainly, we hope that Tori McKnight will come back to her full ability,” Bhattacharjee said. “A number of freshmen were able to contribute [this season] along with the sophomores and juniors … We’ve got a very good group.”
With a junior class including both of Binghamton’s all-conference selections and several key contributors from the freshmen and sophomores, Binghamton has a strong foundation to build upon in 2020.