Katherine Scott/Pipe Dream Photographer Redshirt junior Charlie Novoth has started all 11 of the Bearcats’ games this season.

After its America East (AE) opener last Saturday against No. 19 UMass Lowell, the Binghamton men’s soccer team’s confidence has only grown. BU’s 1-1 tie against UML confirmed what it already knew going into the match: Binghamton (5-2-4, 0-0-1 AE) can play with the best teams in what has become one of the strongest soccer conferences in the country.

“It gives you a bit of a boost when you see that you’re able to compete against these teams that, for many years, you looked up to,” said redshirt junior back Charlie Novoth. “So that can only help us.”

In the latest National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Coaches’ Poll, which came out last Sunday, two AE teams now rank in the top 25. UMass Lowell is now ranked at No. 22, falling three slots from the previous poll, but No. 25 New Hampshire fought its way into the rankings for the first time this season after opening 2016 with a 9-1 record. Vermont, last season’s conference champion, also received votes in the poll.

“I’d probably say, without hesitation, that the America East is the strongest since I’ve been here,” said BU head coach Paul Marco. “I did say that going into the season that I thought this was a good year for the conference. I’m really delighted with how well the conference has done.”

But it’s not only the top of the conference that has seen success so far this season. Albany stunned No. 3 Syracuse on Tuesday night, and every team’s record in nonconference play stands above .500. The AE’s average RPI ranks fourth in the country of 24 conferences, trailing only the Atlantic Coast Conference, Pacific-12 Conference and the Big East Conference.

“The conference is very competitive,” Marco said. “The last-place team can easily beat the first-place team on the last day of the season, so I think it’ll be a challenge for everyone this year.”

Binghamton’s RPI is 61st of 206 Division I teams — the highest it’s been since 2008. The Bearcats now rank 10th in the NSCAA Eastern Regional Poll. Although the conference has proven more competitive this season, Binghamton’s focus during practice hasn’t changed.

“The conference is very strong this year,” Novoth said. “But that doesn’t really change how we play or how we mentally prepare ourselves for the games. As a team, we know we can do it. So the preparation is just keep focusing and keep training as hard as you can.”

Last season, Binghamton advanced to the conference championship for the first time since 2008. The Bearcats hope to make it back this year.

“I have belief, and it’s more than hope,” Marco said. “When you believe that you can do it, it’s different. Hope has a little bit of chance in it.”

Binghamton’s depth was tested early this season when the Bearcats ran into injury problems. Four of the team’s five seniors are sidelined with injuries, but BU’s young talent has proved reliable and is ready to lead Binghamton into conference play.

“I think the boys are very well set in trying to make it back to the conference tournament, and make it back to the finals,” Marco said. “Will need some good preparation for each game, we’ll need to make sure that we can present a body of work that, at the end, says that [we] were pretty good and that we can earn a right to get to that level.”

Binghamton is scheduled to continue AE play against Hartford on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. from the Bearcats Sports Complex in Vestal, New York.