Three weeks ago, the Binghamton volleyball team took its first loss in America East (AE) play against the two-time defending conference champions in UMBC. But on Sunday, in an away rematch, after a fluctuating five sets, the Bearcats handed the Retrievers their first conference loss in two seasons and 23 matches, as BU won 3-2.
“This match shows how hard these players have worked since back in spring,” said Binghamton head coach Allie Yaeger. “Matches like this build confidence … This is no longer a team that we can’t beat, and it’s huge for the players to know that.”
BU (14-7, 5-2 AE) and UMBC (13-6, 6-1 AE) faced a back-and-forth battle during set one. The highly contested set saw both sides exchange points and struggle to pull away by more than three points, until a 3-0 Retrievers’ run put them up 15-11. Binghamton soon regrouped, attempting to crawl back as it cut the deficit to one with UMBC up 23-22. However, things tipped in favor of the home team, and the Retrievers closed out the set 25-23.
“We were slow to start and had too many unforced errors in the first three sets,” Yaeger said. “It was a match of momentum … Lots of runs from both teams, it was going to come down to who had the momentum in the fifth set, and we did.”
The second set proved to be highly contested as well, with both teams struggling to pull away. The two squads exchanged points for the majority of the set, and despite being down by as much as five points, the Bearcats shifted the momentum and caught up to the Retrievers, taking a late 22-21 lead thanks to a 7-1 run. UMBC eventually tied the score at 24 apiece, but BU came out on top, taking the set 26-24 courtesy of a kill by junior outside hitter Tsvetelina Ilieva.
“Defense was key for us,” Yaeger said. “We went with what was working and that was setting our outside hitters. We were able to terminate and execute while being out of system.”
In the third set, Binghamton continued to build momentum, taking an early lead of 10-7. However, the Retrievers came storming back, going on a five-point run and taking the lead 12-10. This forced the Bearcats to burn a timeout, their first of the set. Despite staging a late comeback, the Bearcats would fall short as UMBC did not relinquish the lead, closing out the set 25-20.
“We needed more consistency in our serve and pass game,” Yaeger said. “We missed a lot of serves and then couldn’t be in system when serve receiving.”
During the penultimate set, BU came out strong, taking an early lead at 5-1. UMBC did not give up, however, as it cut the Bearcat lead to just two later on in the set at 15-13. However, BU responded with a 5-1 run to halt the Retriever’s effort at a comeback, and eventually took the set 25-20 and tied up the match at two sets apiece.
“[Freshman setter Lottie Scully] did a great job getting to balls that were not in system and putting up hittable balls to our outsides,” Yaeger said. “Our defense and consistency are what kept us fighting in that match.”
In the fifth and final set, BU came hot out of the gates, taking a 7-1 lead with UMBC struggling to find its groove. However, after an early timeout, the Retrievers began chipping away at the Bearcat lead, knotting things up at 13 points courtesy of an 8-1 breakaway run. Notched up at 13, junior outside hitter Stefana Stan recorded a kill from a Scully set, and the Bearcats were just one point away from a win. The Retrievers committed an error and BU went home with its fifth conference win.
“It builds our players’ confidence, five sets are really tough,” Yaeger said. “It’s all about who has the stamina and focus to close a match out … We looked comfortable playing together like we’ve been doing this for a while.”
Stan and Ilieva led the charge offensively with 26 and 24 kills, respectively. In addition, Scully was setting up her teammates all game, dishing out a career-high 64 assists. With three regular-season games left, BU sits alone in second place.
“When [Stan and Ilieva] can put up numbers like that, we win,” Yaeger said. “They both bring experience and a high level of play … I’m very proud of both of them.”
Binghamton will begin a two-game homestand on Friday, Nov. 4 against NJIT. First serve is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the West Gym in Vestal, New York.