A year removed from a sixth-place finish and a heart-wrenching quarterfinals loss, the Binghamton men’s soccer team placed seventh in the America East preseason poll. University of Maryland, Baltimore County, which has won two of the last three conference titles, snagged first as the unanimous favorite in the preseason poll.

The Bearcats graduated several key players last spring, most notably Jake Keegan, who scored 11 of Binghamton’s 24 goals, tallied a team-high 57 shots and notched four assists before being drafted by the Philadelphia Union in the Major League Soccer Supplemental Draft in January. Other graduated starters include Adam Whitehead, who recorded three goals and a team-high seven assists during his senior year, and Trey Jasenski.

“We certainly graduated a few great players,” Binghamton head coach Paul Marco said. “Replacing Jake Keegan will be very difficult. I don’t think you can do that in one player, certainly not one new freshman.”

Still, the team will return 13 letter winners and five starters, including senior back Robbie Hughes, senior midfielder Tommy Moon and junior forward Steven Celeste. Hughes recorded two goals and two assists last year, and Marco listed him along with Moon, junior midfielder Ben Nicholson and a few others as an emerging leader on the team.

Moon, described as “terrific” by Marco, played in all 18 games and notched three assists and one goal. Celeste put away three goals, coming in a tie for second after Keegan’s 11.

These veterans, as well as the rest of the team, will have to pull together to fill Keegan’s void if the team wants to prove the preseason poll wrong.

“[Scoring is] not going to come from one player,” Moon said. “One player is not going to magically start producing goals. It’s going to be bits and pieces from here and there, it’s going to be a total team effort, and I think if everybody can help out, it’ll be huge.”

In order to achieve such a goal, the more experienced players will have to guide the team’s newest recruits — all nine of them. Despite a roster largely filled by freshmen, Marco claims that nothing has changed in terms of the team’s goals.

“Every year at Binghamton we try to play in championships and this is no exception,” he said. “I know that everyone outside our circle will ask us how will you do that with such a young team and inexperience even with the returning players and the lack of minutes that they’ve played, but I really think that this group can go far.”

Marco also intimated that this particular group is the closest that he has had in a very long time. Nicholson echoed the sentiment and added that the quick bonding bodes well for the future.

Looking forward, the team has begun to string itself together, having worked on its attack and finding ways to penetrate its opponents during the spring and now drilling its defense during training camp.

Additionally, with AE all-rookie selection Stefano Frantellizzi returning in goal and the addition of Robert Moewes, goalkeeping also looks sharp. Meanwhile, Hughes credited the freshmen for their tenacity and skill and said that he believes the strength will be up the middle, between the center backs and center midfielders.

Whatever they may be, the Bearcats will be able to put these strengths to the test in their first game, set for Friday against Virginia Tech as part of the James Madison University Tournament. The team will continue in non-conference play in the George Mason University Tournament at George Mason Stadium, through Sept. 6-8. Non-conference matches will culminate on Oct. 1 against Syracuse University at SU Soccer Stadium. Conference matches will start up against University of Vermont on Oct. 5 and continue until Nov. 6.

Binghamton’s season opener against Virginia Tech is set for 5 p.m Friday at JMU’s University Park.