After completing its most difficult season in program history during its 2019 campaign, the Binghamton women’s volleyball team is finally back in action in 2021 after the America East (AE) moved fall sports to the spring due to COVID-19 concerns.
“We obviously want to do better than last year,” said Binghamton head coach Glenn Kiriyama. “We want to compete well with every team in conference this year and hopefully place pretty well in conference, in the top half.”
The team went 0-23 last season and has not won a match since Nov. 4, 2018. However, the team lost just two seniors to graduation — and there are some strong players on the roster. One of their seniors is outside hitter Francela Ulate, who Kiriyama believes will be the team’s most powerful outside hitter on the court. Last season, Ulate was ranked first in the AE in service aces and 10th in the nation. She was also 10th in the AE in kills.
“[Ulate’s] improved quite a bit,” Kiriyama said. “She’s come in in good shape and she’s strong right now. She’s probably our best outside hitter and she puts a lot of heat on the ball. I feel like she’ll be one of the top hitters in conference this year, and I think she’ll play a major role for how successful we are.”
There are also three new freshmen on the roster: setter Jessie Bilello, right side hitter Stephanie Gatto and outside hitter Stefana Stan.
“One is an outside hitter, [Stan], and she’s going to be a heavy contributor for us this season,” Kiriyama said. “She’s a nice outsider hitter, comes from outside the Albany area and she can put some heat on the ball so we’re looking forward to having her compete.”
With all of the coronavirus restrictions in place, sophomore defensive specialist Regon Kennedy said that last semester the team was practicing in pods, but now they are able to practice as a whole unit and flow better together.
“There’s a lot more restrictions on what we can and can’t do,” Kennedy said. “We came into the semester early which would’ve normally happened in the fall, so we’ve been able to practice together as a team which is lucky.”
COVID-19 restrictions also mean that there are significant changes to scheduling. Just 12 games will be played and the schedule will consist of entirely of AE opponents. The team will play two games in one day, competing once a week.
”Our season is a little bit different in that we play two games in one day,” Kiriyama said. “We haven’t done that in conference before, but we’ve done it in preseason quite a few times, so it’s not [that] they’re not used to [it], but it does wear on you. That’ll be interesting to see how teams adjust to each other.”
The first team that BU will take on is the University of Hartford. The team hasn’t beat the Hawks since 2017, but they’re hoping to change that this weekend.
“This year is a lot more hectic,” Kiriyama said. “They had a long break and we didn’t get a lot of practice in in the fall, but these last three, four weeks we’ve been able to get a lot of practice in. We’re hopeful that they’ll be ready this weekend. We’ve got a little ways to go, but I think we’ll be able to show pretty well.”
The matchups against Hartford will take place on Friday, Feb. 26. The first serve is scheduled for 12 p.m. at the Reich Family Pavilion in West Hartford, Connecticut.