Nine months following its early exit from the America East (AE) Championship, the Binghamton volleyball team is slotted to begin its preseason this upcoming Friday. The Bearcats will face off against UNLV, Eastern Washington University and the University of California, Davis in the UNLV Invitational to open the 2017 campaign.
In the AE Semifinals last postseason, BU was unable to dethrone the regular-season champion, and now four-time defending champion, University of New Hampshire. The Bearcats finished play posting a 13-14 record, with seven wins earned in conference.
With their eyes set on Las Vegas and the upcoming stretch of matches, the Bearcats hope a rigorous preseason schedule will prepare them for AE opponents. BU will have 13 games to test different player combinations, develop chemistry and work on substitution patterns.
“Starting out at UNLV will be a very tough tournament for us … but it’s a good time to get the team together and create a good atmosphere for our team,” said BU head coach Glenn Kiriyama. “We got our work cut out for us and we’re hoping just to get better every week.”
Even though BU is undeniably lacking height, Kiriyama will look to senior setter Sarah Ngo, senior middle hitter Kristella Morina and junior outside hitter Gaby Alicea to lead the Bearcats. Last year, Ngo posted 881 assists, Alicea logged 227 kills and Morina collected 87 blocks.
“We’re going to have to be good at ball control because we don’t have a really tall team,” Kiriyama said. “We got a lot of good returners back so we’re hoping to build on that. Hopefully they can take charge on the court and we can get our offense going a little bit better this year.”
Binghamton will return eight letter winners from last season, including three all-conference selections from 2016. Fortunately for Kiriyama’s squad, senior middle hitter Lexi LaGoy will be back after missing a third of the previous season due to injury. In 2014, LaGoy was named the AE Rookie of the Year after posting 240 kills, 70 blocks and 289.5 points.
“[LaGoy] is coming off the injury but she’s ready to go this year,” Kiriyama said. “She’s looking strong in the preseason. We’re looking forward to her being a really forceful middle for us this year.”
In addition to several players earning conference honors, Kiriyama was named AE Coaching Staff of the Year in 2016. Kiriyama is entering his 19th season as the head coach after guiding the Bearcats to 11 postseason appearances in the past 13 years.
Binghamton was picked to finish third in the 2017 AE preseason coaches’ poll largely due to its success in the previous season. UNH took first place in the poll with 34 points and five first-place votes, Albany was picked second with 31 points and two first-place votes and BU was elected third with 27 total points.
“One thing that is going to be really important this season is accountability for us,” Ngo said. “We talked about how everyone needs to push each other but also be able to push themselves so that we can reach our peak potential.”
Hoping to capitalize on several invitationals and tournaments, BU will open its 2017 campaign against UNLV on Friday. First serve is scheduled for 10 a.m. from the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas.