With the America East (AE) regular season title on the line, the Binghamton volleyball team traveled to Smithfield, Rhode Island on Sunday afternoon to take on Bryant in its final regular season match. After sweeping Bryant a month ago in its first matchup, BU replicated its success — winning in three sets once again to claim the program’s first AE regular season title — and will host the conference tournament next weekend.
“We’ve talked about championships, we’ve talked about being a championship program, building this program back up to where I knew it could be at,” said Binghamton head coach Allie Yaeger. “It’s so exciting and it’s very surreal for me and for the girls. In all the years that I’ve been coaching and my four years of playing, I’ve never won a regular season championship … I hope we can continue this momentum and bring it into next weekend.”
In the first set, BU (17-7, 8-2 AE) got off to a hot start, going up 9-4, however, the Bulldogs (19-11, 6-4 AE) followed this up with a 7-0 run, taking an 11-9 lead and forcing the Bearcats to burn their first timeout. Later in the set, Bryant built on its momentum, going up 20-15. As the home team held control of set one, Binghamton staged a response and finished the set on a 10-1 run, winning the frame 25-21 and taking a 1-0 lead on the match.
“They stayed focused, and they never lost track of our focus,” Yaeger said. “The girls just kept fighting, and they were focused the whole entire match, and they just executed really well.”
In the second set, both teams went back and forth in their scoring, exchanging points for the majority of the frame. Although Bryant controlled the set early, going up 12-8, the Bearcats kept the score close, never trailing by more than four in the set. BU soon rebounded with a 4-0 run followed by back-and-forth serves, and found itself trailing 18-17. The Bearcats once again turned up the heat with a 5-0 run that gave them the inside track of taking the second set. Coming out of a timeout, the Bulldogs took two straight points, cutting the deficit to two at 22-20. Despite this, BU maintained control, scoring three straight points and ending the frame at 25-20 thanks to two blocks.
“We blocked so well,” Yaeger said. “Every time we needed a point or we needed a side out, I felt like our block was there … Our defense really came through tonight. I would say our blocking and our defense was one of the reasons we were able to [win] in three.”
BU began the final set scoring in a flurry, building on the momentum from the set prior. The Bearcats took an early 10-3 lead over the Bulldogs. Despite Bryant following this with a 6-0 run, the visitors never relinquished their advantage. With the lead at just one point, the Bearcats contained Bryant’s efforts with a 9-4 run that kept the Bulldogs at bay. The home side peppered the scoreboard the rest of the way, but never scored back-to-back points, allowing the Bearcats to eventually take the frame 25-17, completing the 3-0 sweep. The victory secured Binghamton’s season series against Bryant as well as home court advantage for the AE tournament next weekend.
“I’m very happy we were able to do it in three,” Yaeger said. “We knew we had a lot on the line and it was a historic day for our program. Being able to take home a regular season championship, it was such a big deal, and the girls knew it was a big deal and they knew they had to execute right from the beginning, so we’re excited about it … Early on we really struggled with the serving-pass game, but I’d say halfway through the second set we really turned it around took over after that.”
In the previous four seasons, BU combined for a 7-35 conference record with the lowlight coming in 2019 with a 0-23 record throughout the entire year. This season alone, in a turnaround from last year’s 3-9 AE record, BU has registered eight conference wins, its best since 2017 and first regular season title.
Freshman outside hitter Giulia Bonifacio led the way on offense with 13 kills. Junior outside hitter Stefana Stan and junior outside hitter Tsvetelina Ilieva were not far behind her, amassing 12 and 10 kills, respectively. Additionally, the Bearcats tallied 13 blocks and and 43 digs.
“We’ve been playing really well as a team recently,” Yaeger said. “I’d say we’re peaking right at the perfect time, this is the best ball that we’ve played and we’re really playing well at home. So I just hope and pray that we can keep it together and give it our final go next weekend.”
The next time Binghamton will see the court will be in the 2022 AE tournament, where they look to win their first AE title since 2012. First serve against UNH is set for Saturday, Nov. 19 at West Gym in Vestal, NY.