Ever since the 2014-15 season, which featured the Binghamton women’s basketball team winning just two conference matchups and four games overall, head coach Linda Cimino has been a major catalyst in turning the program around. The Bearcats have finished the past two seasons with an identical 8-8 conference record, an obvious improvement from their 2014-15 last place finish, but Cimino and her players are still hungry for more.
Predicted to finish third in the America East (AE) Conference in the preseason coaches’ poll, Cimino thinks that projection is a fair assessment heading into the season.
“New Hampshire won the league last year … they didn’t lose much, so out of respect you have to vote them first, and Albany won the tournament,” Cimino said. “For us to be picked first among the rest of the remaining programs, I find joy in that, because we’ve earned some respect, we might not have had in the previous years.”
Cimino has effectively pulled the team out of the doldrums of the AE, but this would not have been possible without the performance of her players.
Senior center Alyssa James and senior guard Imani Watkins are two players who have grown into leaders for this ever-improving squad. Individually, James is in reach of the record for all-time blocks in the AE, while Watkins is in striking distance to becoming the top scorer in BU program history. Both of these feats would be momentous, but Cimino remains focused on the team’s success.
“The personal accolades cannot be achieved without the team accolades,” Cimino said.
A player’s senior season may seem like the time where one truly gives it their all, but for James, it’s just playing basketball as usual.
“I feel like I leave it out there every game and every season,” James said. “Hopefully this year I can leave it all out there and come home with a ring.”
Additionally, Watkins, one of the most accomplished athletes in Binghamton history, still maintains a holistic approach to winning.
“We need to be as good at one as we are at eight or nine,” Watkins said.
As Watkins pointed out, the Bearcats will only be successful if every player buys into their role, and no player is more adept at such a task as sophomore guard Kai Moon. A star in high school who had a very strong freshman year, Moon understands that she does not have to carry the load offensively. Each member of this team seems fully confident that the talent is there, but it will come down to the talent coming together in time to achieve the goal of a championship.
“This is the first time since I’ve been here that we are two deep at every position,” Cimino said.
The fluidity of the team from last season makes Binghamton’s championship aspirations more plausible than ever.
“To have a system and culture in place, this is the first time that the pieces are really clicking since I’ve been here,” Cimino said.
James and Watkins, along with redshirt junior guard Jasmine Sina and junior forward Rebecca Carmody, are players that have proven themselves as threats on the court. The combination of these veteran presences, partnered with younger players like Moon, results in a cohesive and dangerous roster.
This will be the first season in which the Bearcats roster consists entirely of players that Cimino recruited herself. The roster’s latest addition, freshman forward Kaylee Wasco, is an extremely versatile, high-profile recruit out of Michigan, and Cimino foresees great things for the forward.
“I do believe she will be a part of the All-Rookie Team in the America East and a member of the All-Conference Team by the time she graduates,” Cimino said.
Team morale is soaring in the Bearcats’ locker room with high expectations heading into the 2017-18 season.
“We are grateful for the respect that our conference coaches have shown us,” Cimino said. “But we’re gonna compete every day and put ourselves into a position to win a championship.”