With a talented senior class and several young players ready to step into the lineup, the Binghamton women’s soccer team is set to take the pitch this weekend and open their 2021 season against Albany.

“We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to be back, just to get this chance to play again,” said Binghamton head coach Neel Bhattacharjee.

Bhattacharjee led the Bearcats to a fifth-place finish in the America East (AE) last season, going 10-6-2 overall and 3-3-1 in conference play. However, the team was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs after losing 3-2 to New Hampshire. After almost 500 days of waiting, the Bearcats are ready to improve upon last season’s performance.

“It’s been a long stretch,” Bhattacharjee said. “None of our players have gone this long without playing the game since they were probably six or seven years old.”

One player who has had to wait an even longer time to play is sophomore midfielder Victoria McKnight. After tearing her ACL in last year’s preseason, she was forced to redshirt her freshman year. Her twin sister, sophomore midfielder Olivia McKnight, had a breakout campaign, scoring six goals and being named to the AE all-rookie team. The pair had similar success playing together at nearby Vestal High School.

“[McKnight] had a terrific freshman campaign,” Bhattacharjee said. “Having [both sisters] on the field brings a terrific dynamic to our team. They’re incredibly competitive, they care a lot about their teammates and they’re the players in a tight, one-goal game that you want on the field.”

Outside of the McKnight twins, Binghamton will return an experienced roster with eight seniors on the team. Offensively, the class is led by senior forward Essie Bonney and senior midfielder Dora Hayes. Bonney netted five goals in 2019 and Hayes scored four goals and recorded three assists.

“[Hayes] is a special player that contributes greatly to our offensive plan,” Bhattacharjee said. “Her versatility as either a forward or anywhere in our midfield line gives our team an ability to play with varying and unpredictable attacking looks.”

The two seniors are part of a Binghamton roster that lost the fewest number of starters to graduation in the conference.

“We’re certainly going to be looking toward [the seniors] for leadership,” Bhattacharjee said. “We do have big hopes and aspirations for them going into the spring.”

Defensively, senior defender Erin Theiller has been a standout on Binghamton’s back line since her freshman year. In net, junior goalkeeper Haylee Poltorak and senior goalkeeper Mackenzie Hanna split playing time last season and both performed well for the Bearcats.

The team is slated to play a six-game regular season, consisting only of conference games due to the shortened schedule. However, on the current schedule are all four of the top-finishing teams from 2019. As it currently stands, Binghamton will be playing each of these teams on four consecutive weekends to open the season.

“We’re extremely grateful — we’re ready to meet the challenge and step up to the competition,” Bhattacharjee said. “We’re really grateful for this opportunity to play, excited to get after it.”

The Bearcats are scheduled to begin their season against Albany on Sunday, March 7. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Bob Ford Field in Albany, New York.