Rebecca Kiss/Photography Editor Following a surprise run to the America East Championship game in 2017, volleyball looks to replicate that success and take the next step forward this upcoming season.

After turning in an underdog campaign that featured advancing to the conference finals for the first time in five seasons and a trip to the America East (AE) title match, the Binghamton volleyball team is ready to begin its 2018 season. Entering the year with playoff aspirations, the Bearcats will look for some much-needed redemption as they hope to rebound from a 3-0 heartbreak defeat at the hands of Stony Brook last November.

“It was a great way to finish the year, making it all the way to the finals,” said BU head coach Glenn Kiriyama. “They played well at the tail end of last season so we’re trying to carry that over to this year. We’ve got a lot of key players returning this year and a lot of experience. We’re hoping for good things this coming year.”

Despite a strong finish that included a five-game winning streak to close out the regular season and securing the second seed in the AE playoffs, BU was chosen to finish fourth in the conference in the annual preseason poll. AE coaches selected Albany (32), New Hampshire (31) and Stony Brook (29) to place at the top of the conference, respectively, while the defending conference runner-up received only 22 points.

It could be inferred that the dip in projection is largely the result of Binghamton’s search for a replacement setter. Former setter Sarah Ngo, ‘18, unrivaled at her position, consistently served as BU’s floor general throughout her illustrious career. From both a leadership and playmaking standpoint, Ngo’s departure leaves a tremendous void for this team.

“Our only question mark is the setting position,” Kiriyama said. “Having [Ngo] last year and the last three years was great. She was a great leader and a great captain for us. But the setter position is always one of the toughest to replace because it’s like a quarterback in football where they handle the ball quite a bit.”

Although the team will have to find a new player to manage ball movement, there will certainly be no shortage of offense. The Bearcats return all-star senior outside hitter Gaby Alicea, who was named AE player of the year and logged 381 kills and recorded 283 digs last season. The team will undoubtedly rely on her on and off the court to help propel BU back to the playoffs this upcoming year.

“We were so excited last year because that was the first time we even made it to the championship in the whole time I’ve been here,” Alicea said. “That just pumps us up even more for this year because we know what it’s like to be in the championship game and we just want to actually be able to win it.”

As for the preseason, Binghamton will compete in the Cleveland State Invitational, UT-Arlington Tournament, Wyoming Tournament and the Sacred Heart Hampton Inn Invitational leading up to opening day on Sept. 21 against UMBC. Hoping to improve upon what was a tumultuous preseason last year (3-10 record), Kiriyama plans to utilize the future nonconference tournaments as a means to iron out several things.

“We’re trying to figure out who is going to be in what position, trying to mesh the new players in with the older ones,” Kiriyama said. “[The preseason] gives us a chance to experiment a little bit but against good competition, so we know that coming in we can compete against the best in the America East also.”

The Bearcats will kick off their 2018 campaign on Friday, Aug. 24 against Cleveland State University. First serve is expected at noon from the Homer E. Woodling Gymnasium in Cleveland, Ohio.