The year was 2014. “Boom Clap” by Charli XCX sat atop the Billboard Charts, Serena Williams captured her sixth U.S. Open of her career, Ewa Kopacz became the Prime Minister of Poland and the Binghamton volleyball team took its America East (AE) Conference opener against Albany, 3-2. After three consecutive years of falling in the first AE match of the season, the Bearcats (3-11, 1-0 AE) ended that skid with a 3-2 victory over UMBC Friday night.
“It’s definitely very important, as every match is going to have a bearing on the final standings,” said BU head coach Glenn Kiriyama. “I feel like the past few years it’s come down to a game — one game here and one game there. It’s definitely important to get this victory and it’s a great way to start the conference.”
For BU, ending the drought certainly did not come easy. The Retrievers (3-11, 0-1 AE) faltered in the opening two frames, yet battled back in the subsequent two sets to force a fifth game. The Bearcats held their own with opening scores of 25-20, 25-21 and 15-13 in the decisive sequence.
“We just had to reset to play a little bit better,” Kiriyama said. “We had to serve tough and they did in the fifth game. We had to pass a little bit better, but it came down to a couple of plays here and there. They stayed aggressive and played well.”
After four sets that featured competitive play on both sides, a constant exchange of points and 15 ties, the final frame seemed to be characterized by much of the same themes. With the game at a 10-10 draw, UMBC obtained a short-lived advantage as a result of an attack error by Binghamton junior outside hitter Victoria Keghlian and a kill by UMBC junior middle blocker Franchesca Reed.
Following a BU timeout, the team closed out the set and the match on a 4-1 run, largely due to the play of senior outside hitter Erin Shultz, who recorded two kills and one block in the game’s final moments. Despite not appearing in the box score toward the end, senior outside hitter Gaby Alicea commanded the offense with 18 digs and a team-high 15 kills on the day.
“[Alicea] had some really great digs, kept us in that fifth game there,” Kiriyama said. “She was consistent throughout the match and it was good to see her have a good all-around game and really contribute in that sense.”
Although the Bearcats ultimately came out with a confidence-boosting victory, the team did not perform as if it had the upper hand. Binghamton found itself down across the board statistically in points, kills, aces, blocks, assists and digs. Nonetheless, Kiriyama’s squad took care of business and is on its first win streak of the season.
Up next for the team is SUNY rival University at Albany on Friday. The Great Danes (6-7), who were picked to finish first in the annual preseason poll, will open their conference season with a matchup against Binghamton after defeating tough schools such as West Virginia and Florida Gulf Coast earlier in the season. The Bearcats will undoubtedly have their hands full.
“We know Albany is the favorite going into the season and they’ll be tough,” Kiriyama said. “At their place, I think the pressure is on them. We just want to go in there and play as hard as we can.”
First serve against the Great Danes is slated for 7 p.m. from the Alumni Gym in Albany, New York.