Despite losing in the first round of the America East (AE) tournament to UNH, the Binghamton women’s volleyball team earned itself a bid to the National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NIVC) after claiming the AE regular season title. On Friday evening, BU traveled to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts to take on St. John’s in the first round of the tournament. The Bearcats, however, failed to advance to the next round, losing in three sets to the Red Storm, ultimately ending their 2022 campaign.
“We had a couple of starters out, and it’s always tough when you don’t have your full squad with you,” said Binghamton head coach Allie Yaeger. “I thought we fought really well … [St. John’s is] the most physical team we’ve played all season. They’re big, they’re international and they’re really good.”
In the first set, BU (17-9, 8-2 AE) went down early to the Red Storm (20-13, 10-8 Big East) and was unable to recover. St. John’s jumped out to an early 9-4 lead that sparked a 6-0 run to make it 15-5. Despite a pair of short runs by BU, St. John’s still led 18-12 going into the late stages of the set. However, the Bearcats began to find their groove, staging a 7-1 run of their own to cut the deficit to just three. Despite the late comeback, the Red Storm would not relinquish their lead, closing out the set 25-19.
“When we’re out of system and we’re not winning that serve and pass game, it’s really hard for us to compete at the level that we want to compete at,” Yaeger said. “We could not put a serve receive ball in from the 10-foot line.”
The second set followed a similar theme to the first, as once again BU found itself trailing early. St. John’s retained its momentum from its first-frame victory, jumping out to a 5-1 lead over the Bearcats. However, BU was able to keep the match close, tying the score at 5-5 and even keeping pace with the Red Storm with the score knotted up at 8-8 soon after. Despite this, St. John’s pulled away, staging a 10-2 run that it would not relinquish for the remainder of the set. The Bearcats struggled to get in system, resulting in a 25-18 defeat in set two.
“Our offense was never the problem,” Yaeger said. “We were hitting almost .300 [attacking percentage], which is crazy against a team like St. John’s,” Yaeger said. “It was always just our passing game, we made errors on our end.”
BU’s struggles continued into the third set. Early on, however, both teams went back-and-forth exchanging points. At the 17-14 mark, with the Red Storm leading, the Bearcats lost their footing on defense as St. John’s began to pull away. The Red Storm went on an 8-2 spurt to close out the set, taking the match and advancing to the second round of the NIVT while ending BU’s season.
Senior middle hitter Anna Sprys and junior outside hitter Tsvetelina Ilieva led the Bearcat with nine kills each. As a team the Bearcats tallied 30 kills, seven aces, four blocks, 29 assists and 28 digs.
“In the beginning of the sets, we would get down significantly and always have to try to fight and claw our way back,” Yaeger said. “It was tough.”
In Yaeger’s first year as head coach, the Bearcats finished the season with a 17-9 overall record and an 8-2 conference record to capture the AE regular season title. Additionally, they hosted the AE championship for the first time in program history. This was a steep improvement from the season prior, in which the Bearcats finished 7-17 without clinching an AE playoff berth.
“I’m so proud of these players, this program and this team, they work really hard,” Yaeger said. “We completely turned this program around … I’m not satisfied … we have to continue to stay hungry, but the future is so bright, and this is a very special team that we had this year.”