Rebecca Kiss/Photography Editor Redshirt senior forward Kayla Saager scored women’s soccer’s first goal of the season in a 3-3 tie against St. Bonaventure.

After winning the 2017 America East (AE) regular season title and losing in the conference semifinals, the Binghamton women’s soccer team is looking to improve on its accomplishments from last year. Returning 19 players, the team has its goals set on adding to the hardware it collected last season.

“For us, we want to compete for America East titles,” said BU head coach Neel Bhattacharjee. “This year, we certainly hope to go further than we did last postseason. This year, we want to go a step further and make it to the finals and hopefully be in a position to win it at the end and put us in the NCAA tournament.”

The Bearcats are returning most of last season’s roster, including nine starters. Redshirt senior forward Kayla Saager, sophomore midfielder Dora Hayes and sophomore defender Erin Theiller will anchor this year’s squad after they each earned a spot on the 2017 All-Conference team. Binghamton will look for significant growth from other players with its focus set on an AE title.

“I certainly think [junior defender] Lauren Spinnato’s going to be in a really good position to make a run at that All-Conference team as well,” Bhattacharjee said. “We’re looking now from contributions from other players that have stepped up. This past game we started three freshmen — [goalie] Haylee Poltorak, [midfielder] Nicole Scudero and [defender] Kayla MacKenzie — so we’ve certainly had an influx of new talent that’s certainly injected a bit of energy and support in our play as well.”

Saager led Binghamton’s offensive attack last season and was named AE Striker of the Year. She led the conference with 11 goals, seven assists and 29 points in her first season as a Bearcat. Her success both as a shot-creator and facilitator will play an integral role in the Bearcats’ performance this season.

“With [Saager], she brings a big attacking presence,” Bhattacharjee said. “She brings the ability to score goals. She can do it in a few different ways. We also expect that [she’s] going to have an understanding in terms of when it’s going to open up for her teammates. Other teams are really going to focus in on her and have specific game plans for her based on video and scouting reports. She’ll have a good understanding of knowing when to get her teammates the ball.”

Binghamton has already completed two nonconference games this season, drawing 3-3 against St. Bonaventure and defeating Marist, 1-0. Against the Bonnies (0-1-1), the Bearcats (1-0-1) held a 3-0 lead nearly 60 minutes into the game, but allowed three goals in the game’s final third to tie. Saager, junior forward Ryan Reilly and sophomore forward Genna Michitti each scored for BU.

Following Binghamton’s third goal, the team’s defensive approach became far less disciplined. The Bearcats’ lackadaisical play culminated in a penalty committed in the 89th minute, which allowed St. Bonaventure to draw even on a penalty kick.

“I thought we played excellent for the duration of 83, 84 minutes,” Bhattacharjee said. “We got away from our tactical game plan which allowed them to come back late in the game … We dropped a win there that was pretty much there for the taking. It hurt at the moment, but we will learn from that lesson and make sure that it doesn’t happen again and be a better team from it.”

Binghamton sharpened its approach mentally in Sunday’s match against Marist. Following a scoreless first half, BU eventually broke through to earn a corner kick in the 66th minute. Hayes buried the game’s lone goal off a header from Saager’s corner. Defensively, the Bearcats were in great positions throughout, allowing only three shots on goal from the Red Foxes (0-1-0).

“[The Marist game] showed that we were able to make an adjustment over the course of 90 minutes,” Bhattacharjee said. “We’re savvy enough to do that. We’ve got the personnel and intelligence to make that happen, and if we keep that going, I think we will continue to get some positive results down the stretch here in nonconference play.”

Binghamton’s upcoming game is this Friday, Aug. 24, when the team will travel to West Point, New York to take on Army. Kickoff from Malek Stadium is scheduled for 1 p.m.