Eight – that’s how many players the Binghamton women’s basketball team had available for last season. Whether it was going on break for 17 days, another break again for 11 days or playing five games in 10 days, the Bearcats saw it all. This season, BU is looking to bounce back from a first-round exit last year with what they hope will be a less chaotic season.

“Having everybody healthy this season, that was a telltale last year when you had eight players throughout the year, it was tough, but everybody’s back that was unhealthy,” said Binghamton head coach Bethann Shapiro Ord. “We’re just hoping that we keep that way, that we stay that way, but I’m excited about this group. We have a lot of young kids, a lot of new ones, but we also have some pretty good vets coming back as well.”

Despite ending the season seventh in the America East (AE) last year, BU was picked to finish fifth this year in the AE coach’s preseason selections, and was just one of three teams picked with a first-place vote. That disparity may come from a lack of familiarity with the rest of the conference as the team welcomes five freshmen and two transfers while returning just four players who played more than eight games last season.

“You talk more about process as a coach and really trying to get them to understand that,” Shapiro Ord said. “Believe in the process and we continue to build and stick to our culture and stick to what our bases are. And that’s a big part of it. You can’t just look at wins and losses.”

The Bearcats started the AE season with a 1-12 record before ripping four of five to end the regular season. Much of that came from a more consistent schedule down the stretch, but Shapiro Ord also credited the team’s wherewithal to keep competing despite the circumstances. In BU’s 13 conference losses last year, five of them were decided by one possession.

“I think the girls just kept pulling together,” Shapiro Ord said. “Every game was one or two points and just getting over that hump and I think that was a big part. But I think they’re very hungry knowing that they want to win obviously. And I think it was great ending on an uphill.”

Junior forward Birna Benonysdottir, who ranked third in the conference in points per game and started in 24 games last season, left BU, but the team remains strong in the post. The Bearcats welcome back senior guard Clare Traeger and sophomore forward Genevieve Coleman. Traeger ranked second in the league in rebounding, with 8.2 boards per game despite being listed at just 5-feet-10-inches. Coleman, on the other hand, was named to the AE all-rookie team following her freshman campaign.

“[Coleman’s] really stepped up,” Shapiro Ord said. “She had a great summer, a great spring and she’s having a good really good preseason … The competition’s also really good. And I think, [Coleman] is adding to her game a little bit. She didn’t stretch the floor as much as she did this past season, at least not in games, but in practice she did, and she can so that’ll also add to it.”

Another returner who contributed early last season is redshirt freshman guard Ella Wanzer who took a medical redshirt just eight games into the 2021-2022 season. Wanzer averaged 5.3 points per game in 11.9 minutes per game before going down. Shapiro Ord sees the Buffalo native’s return as a way to stretch the floor this year.

“[Wanzer] is a machine when it comes to scoring and while she was hurt, she was able to really focus on her body and getting healthy,” Shapiro Ord said. “She feels like she’s in a great space right now … I think she’s gonna be a big impact for us.”

The team welcomes a pair of transfers in graduate student guard Shannon O’Connor and redshirt freshman forward Kaelonn Wilson. O’Connor comes from new conference foe Bryant while Wilson redshirted her freshman season at Buffalo.

“Both [O’Connor and Wilson] are very different players but will help,” Shapiro Ord said. “It’s been great in practice with [Williams’] ultra athleticism. Making [Coleman] really go against somebody different, somebody really athletic and figuring out ways to score. And then [O’Connor], she’s a leader, being an older player, obviously, and being able to do some different things within our offense and within our defense that I think that will really help.”

The most prominent of the returners is senior guard Denai Bowman, who has been named to the first-team all-conference in consecutive seasons along with being named to the preseason all-conference team for the year ahead. In a year of uncertainty last season, Bowman was a breath of consistency — being just one of two players to start all 29 games while averaging the second-most points in the league, with 14.6 points per game, and the conference’s fifth-best field goal percentage, .465. The Bearcat also ranked in the top ten in each statistical category including points, steals, assists, rebounding and blocks. On top of being BU’s strongest scorer, Bowman leads the pack defensively, earning AE all-defensive nods the past two seasons as well.

“You’re excited now,” Shapiro Ord said. “It’s like ‘boom,’ it’s here right around the corner. And I’m excited about [Bowman] having all-league again and her being the leader that she’s been.”