Thanks to an in-conference season turnaround, the Binghamton University volleyball team positioned itself for a shot at the America East title. And on Saturday, the Bearcats capitalized on their performance to date and swept No. 1 seed University at Albany to win the conference and the associated NCAA tournament berth for the third time in the program’s Division I history.

Binghamton (13-17, 8-4 AE), which finished the regular season tied for second place, had to beat University of Maryland, Baltimore County (15-15, 8-4 AE) in the conference semifinals on Friday to earn a date with the Great Danes, the league’s defending champs.

The match against UMBC was a gritty five-set win for the Bearcats (16-25, 25-22, 20-25, 25-20, 15-9), fitting for two teams that had split during the regular conference season. Trailing two sets to one, the Bearcats produced a .324 hitting percentage, their best of the match, in the fourth set to pull even and force a fifth game. Binghamton had gained momentum and took control of the fifth set to secure the win.

Junior libero Xiomara Ortiz posted 24 digs to break Binghamton’s individual conference tournament record, and senior outside hitter Iva Partaleva collected a match-high 21 kills.

“We didn’t start out very strong,” Binghamton head coach Glenn Kiriyama said. “We had a tough time. We got a little better as the match went on. It was a tough match, the team persevered and fought well in the fifth game and came through when we needed it.”

On Saturday, the Bearcats overpowered the Great Danes on their home court in three sets (25-17, 28-26, 26-24) to win in the finals. Binghamton led most of the way in the first set but had to fight back in each of the following two, overcoming deficits of 18-7 and 16-9 in the second and third sets, respectively. In the clinching set, Binghamton finally tied the score at 24, and Partaleva delivered consecutive kills to give the Bearcats the victory.

Junior captain and middle hitter Grace Vickers received the championship’s Most Outstanding Player award, and All-Tournament honors were given to Partaleva and sophomore setter Amanda Dettmann.

“I am so incredibly proud of my team,” Vickers said. “We have worked for hours on end, perfecting our style of play and we executed this weekend at Albany. Our level of focus was off the charts. I am absolutely elated and can’t wait to see where we get to play for the first round of the NCAA tournament.”

This year’s conference championship win is especially significant to the Bearcats, who missed the conference tournament last year for the first time since 2003. With the victory in the title game, Binghamton earned admission into the 2012 NCAA Championship. Further details on BU’s first match will be revealed during the 2012 NCAA Selection Show, scheduled to be aired live at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 25 on ESPNU.