After dropping its first two matches of the Sacred Heart Hampton Inn Invitational, the Binghamton volleyball team rebounded and swept NJIT to close out the event. The Bearcats (2-11) finished their final preseason tournament with one win and two losses against Rhode Island and Sacred Heart.
“I think they raised their level of play a little bit, considering the past weekends,” said BU head coach Glenn Kiriyama. “It was good to see them compete well with the teams during this tournament.”
The first match was on Friday afternoon against Rhode Island. The Rams (6-6) defeated BU, 3-0. The first set was close early on, but Rhode Island repeatedly pulled away, taking a 14-8 lead and, later on, an 18-13 edge. The Bearcats had to keep fighting back but fell short, losing 25-20. The second frame was similar, but proved more contentious. Early in the frame, Binghamton took its only advantage of the match at 2-1, but the Rams led for the remainder of the set, winning 25-23. Rhode Island dominated the third and final frame, winning 25-16 and sweeping the match.*
On Saturday, Binghamton returned to the court for two matches, beginning with a matchup against tournament host Sacred Heart. The Pioneers (7-4) fell in a tight first frame. Trailing 22-18 in the first game, Binghamton went on a 9-2 run to win the set 26-24. Despite the early successes, Sacred Heart dominated much of the remaining three sets, winning 25-17, 25-18 and 25-21 and taking the match 3-1.
“[Rhode Island and Sacred Heart] were a lot more consistent,” Kiriyama said. “Being able to execute at a better level, higher percentage than we were.”
Still seeking its first victory of the invitational, Binghamton faced off against NJIT for its final match of the tournament. The Highlanders (1-12) were dominated by BU in their first frame. The Bearcats jumped out to an 18-7 lead and cruised to a 25-14 victory in the set.
“We served well, I thought [senior outside hitter Gaby Alicea] got on a nice run serving,” Kiriyama said. “And we blocked really well in that first game, and we just really closed in on their hitters and made it tough for the other team to score points.”
The final two games featured NJIT fighting hard against a superior Binghamton team. After falling behind 22-13 in the second sequence, the Highlanders went on an 8-0 surge to make it a one-point game, but the Bearcats held on, scoring three of four points and winning 25-22.
The third set was highly competitive, with both teams exchanging the lead throughout the frame. Trailing 19-18, Binghamton took over, going on a 7-1 run to close out the set 25-20 and the match 3-0.
“They kept their poise,” Kiriyama said. “I thought their focus was good, they kept their pressure on the other team by just executing a little bit better down the stretch and serving tough, taking the opponents out of their system.”
Senior outside hitter Erin Shultz led the Bearcats with 13 kills in the final match, also tallying six digs. Alicea finished with 10 kills and 16 digs.
With the nonconference schedule now complete, the Bearcats now turn their focus toward their America East (AE) opponents. Coming off a run to the AE championship game last season, Binghamton was picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll. Through nonconference play, Hartford (7-4) is the only AE team to have a winning record.
Despite an underwhelming record thus far, there have been bright spots for BU, and Kiriyama is confident in his team heading into conference play.
“At times they competed well, they fought hard,” Kiriyama said. “I thought they sort of established themselves as a scrappy-type team, a team that doesn’t give up on defense and will go after every ball. So that was good to see, and hopefully we can carry that forward going into conference.”
Binghamton opens its conference schedule with a match against UMBC on Friday, Sept. 21. First serve is set for 7 p.m. from the UMBC Event Center in Baltimore, Maryland.