Following a tough matchup in which the Binghamton volleyball team fell to New Hampshire 3-1 on Friday night, the Bearcats (5-18, 3-7 America East) bounced back with a critical five-set victory over UMass Lowell Sunday afternoon. With this win, BU is now tied with University of Hartford for fourth place in the conference standings, despite being five victories behind both University of New Hampshire and University at Albany.
With a 12-13 overall record and 8-3 AE record, the Wildcats took care of business on their home floor in BU’s first match of the week. In front of the 250 fans in attendance, UNH displayed its dominance by jumping out to a commanding 25-12 victory in the first game.
While the Bearcats put up more of a fight in the second set before they were down 25-20, they battled to a 32-30 win in the third frame. Consecutive kills by senior outside hitter Erin Shultz, junior outside hitter Victoria Keghlian and senior outside hitter Gaby Alicea powered BU to its only victory of the night.
“[The third frame] was definitely high-energy,” said BU head coach Glenn Kiriyama. “We had to come back in that third set and it didn’t look good, but our players responded well and we were able to turn things around for a brief period of time.”
Binghamton was ultimately defeated by the Wildcats in the fourth set by another lopsided score of 25-16. UNH as a team had a complete advantage statistically with 33 more points, 27 more kills, 31 more assists and 12 more digs. The Bearcats could not contain junior outside hitter Kennedi Smith, senior middle blocker Gabri Olhava and junior right-side hitter Hannah Petke, each of whom had at least 15 kills.
While BU struggled mightily with a dominant team in New Hampshire, the team fared better against UML, which finds itself at the bottom of the conference with a lackluster 2-9 AE record and 4-21 overall. Despite the stark difference in the level of competition, the Bearcats still found itself in a back-and-forth affair. Binghamton picked up wins in the first, fourth and fifth frames while dropping two straight sets in the middle of the match.
The victory over UMass Lowell was especially critical for BU as it is in the hunt for the final playoff spot. Entering the day tied with UMBC in the standings and behind Hartford (10-12, 3-7 AE) by one win, the Bearcats desperately needed to come out on top.
“[The victory] was big,” Kiriyama said. “A loss would have really killed us, but the win puts us in a position where we can play our way into the playoffs, so we knew we had to respond. It was tough — we were down 2-1 and we really executed well down the stretch of the end of the match. It was hard fought, but we executed really well on our offense and defense toward the end.”
Coming up clutch again was the trio of Shultz, Alicea and Keghlian, who recorded the three final kills that ultimately lifted the Bearcats over the River Hawks. With the veteran leadership on full display, BU pulled out a much-needed win, 3-2.
“[Shultz and Alicea] lead by example; they play hard out there, they play passionate out there,” Kiriyama said. “It was good to see them to lead and take control when they needed to. They were just as intense as they could have been and it rubs off on everyone else. It was a good team effort all around.”
For the Bearcats, the upcoming matchup against the Hartford Hawks is arguably the most important of the season. In order to qualify for the AE playoffs, Binghamton will have to down the Hawks on its home court this upcoming Friday. BU was defeated by Hartford 3-1 earlier in the season.
“We didn’t do so well the first time around, so we got some adjustments to make against [the Hawks],” Kiriyama said. “Our offense has to come alive a little bit more against them and definitely we need to shore up our defense, because they have some really good hitters on their team and they’re tough to stop, so we know we got our hands full blocking and digging. We got to really prepare for them, and hopefully we can have a good result.”
Binghamton’s postseason hopes will be on the line when it faces off with Hartford on Nov. 9. First serve is slated for 7 p.m. from the West Gym in Vestal, New York.