For almost every sports team, the preseason is a time filled with talk of high expectations, vows of improvement and dreams of success. But all too often, preseason talk proves empty and expectations are left unfulfilled. This year’s preseason for the Binghamton University women’s basketball team was occupied by all the usual things, but something about it had players and coaches alike buzzing with talk of this year being the year. And so far this season, the Bearcats seem determined to prove that their preseason promises were more than just talk.
Binghamton’s loss on Wednesday night against first-place Boston University was just the team’s second defeat suffered in conference play thus far, earning them a 6-2 record and their best start since the 2003-04 season. The Bearcats’ five-point shortfall against Boston University, a game in which Binghamton led by as many as nine points, proved more than anything that the Bearcats can undoubtedly compete with the league’s best. Exactly halfway through its conference season, Binghamton is now tied for second place in the league and boasts first-place rankings in statistical categories that include scoring margin, rebounding margin, rebounding offense and defense, and defensive rebounds per game.
The Bearcats began the season without their lone senior Jackie Ward, and in her absence the team was forced to fill a substantial void. Freshman guard Jasbriell Swain and junior guard Orla O’Reilly went beyond answering the call. Swain stormed brilliantly into her debut season with a passion and aggressiveness that earned her three America East Rookie of the Week awards in the first seven weeks of play, and she has a shot at AE Rookie of the Year. O’Reilly, who started in only four games last season, has now started in 15 this season and leads the team with a .364 field goal percentage from 3-point range (excluding sophomore Kara Elofson, whose 1-of-2 from 3-point range technically gives her a .500 standing). She is arguably having the best season of her career, with her outside shooting propelling the team to victory on various occasions.
With Ward’s recovery and return to the court, the Bearcats acquired a depth nearly unrivaled, quality-wise, by any other team in the conference. In addition to Ward, Swain and O’Reilly, the indisputable leader of not just the guards, but the entire team is junior Andrea Holmes, who recently became just the 13th player in the program’s history to accumulate 1,000 points. Holmes, who ranks second in the league in scoring with 14.8 points per game, possesses a legitimate chance of ending the season as the America East Player of the Year. With forwards junior Viive Rebane and Elofson providing additional offense down low, as well as solid defense in the paint, Binghamton has managed an impressive average of 59.1 points per game, less than three points behind the leading scoring team, and ranks first in the league in scoring defense, allowing an average of only 56 points per game.
The puzzle pieces have rapidly begun to fall into place for the Bearcats and, despite an under-.500 finish last season and a preseason ranking of a third-place finish this year, the Binghamton women’s basketball team has proven it has a legitimate chance of exceeding outsider expectations and ending the year atop the America East. The University last had a taste of the glory of the NCAA tournament when the men’s team reached it in 2009. But the men’s team’s fall from grace left us with broken hearts and a craving for another taste. Maybe this is the season the Binghamton University women’s basketball team gives us just that.