During the 2022 season, the Binghamton volleyball team hosted the America East (AE) tournament for the first time in program history, entering the postseason as the No.1 seed while also earning a bid to the National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NVIT).

After transferring from Seton Hall, junior outside hitter Tsevetelina Ilieva became the second Bearcat in 21 years to be named AE player of the year, and was the first player in program history to be named an American Volleyball Coach’s Association (AVCA) All-American — all in her first season with the Bearcats. Having led BU to one of its most successful seasons in two decades and racking up numerous awards, Ilieva has been named Pipe Dream’s 2022-23 Female Athlete of the Year.

“I’m surprised, I didn’t expect it at all,” Ilieva said. “But I guess I’m very honored to be called [female] athlete of the year for Pipe Dream … I honestly can’t believe it.”

Binghamton finished the season with a 17-9 record while going 8-2 in conference play. This is the highest win total that the Bearcats have had in over 17 seasons, clocking a win percentage of .708, the best in the program’s history.

“I was just determined to make an impact in the program in general, and just do good in the conference overall,” Ilieva said. “I always try to just be focused in the moment and just do as much as I can to make things happen.”

Tsevetelina ranked top ten in the AE conference in kills with 351, points with 410 and hitting percentage at .240. In addition, she also recorded six double-doubles and had 15 or more kills nine times throughout the course of the season.

“Our goal for going into next season is first to bring home a championship,” Ilieva said. “My personal goal is to just get hopefully in — if not on — the honorable mention, the third team All-American, because we want to go up from here.”

In October, Binghamton defeated UMBC 3-2, snapping the Retrievers’ 23-game win streak in AE play. Ilieva added a season-high 24 kills, along with 10 digs, in one of the team’s biggest victories of the season.

“People would probably think that our most memorable [moment] would be when we actually clinched our regular season championship against Bryant,” Ilieva said. “But I think my favorite moment was when we ended UMBC’s 23-game winning streak [in AE play] because everyone overlooked Binghamton in the past. UMBC would always overlook Binghamton, and that was what shut them down and what showed them that Binghamton turned a whole new chapter … it was awesome because we were at their gym.”

Despite being a transfer and being self-admittedly nervous about being new to the program, Ilieva quickly built chemistry and strong relationships with her teammates.

“I was just like this girl that came with the head coach, so I was really nervous on how they were going to react to that,” Ilieva said. “Everyone on the team helped me out, most importantly [junior outside hitter Stefana Stan] really made Binghamton feel like home. The girls accepted me for who I was and that was one of my major reasons for me to succeed because they bring out the best player in me.”

With every starter in the lineup returning for the 2023 season, Ilieva and the Bearcats will look to replicate their success and win the AE tournament. The rising senior attributed much of her success to Binghamton head coach Allie Yaeger and her teammates, who welcomed her into the program with open arms.

“[Coach Yaeger] helped me a lot,” Ilieva said. “She deserves a huge shout-out because obviously she turned me into the player I am today. I’m very, very, very excited because I think we have unfinished business because we obviously have a lot of expectations now to prove to everyone that it was not just a one-season type of thing … we will do everything we can to bring back the [AE] championship [to Binghamton].”