After a historic 2022 season, the Binghamton volleyball team was triumphant on the hardwood in 2023 as it continues to build a winning culture in Vestal, advancing all the way to the America East championship match in the second year of head coach Allie Yaeger’s tenure.

Senior outside hitter Tsvetelina Ilieva had another year to remember, winning AE Player of the Year for the second year straight, along with being named an American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American honorable mention for the second time in her career. After replicating her success for the second straight year, Ilieva has been selected as Pipe Dream’s Female Athlete of the Year once again.

“I love Binghamton,” Ilieva said. “I’m obsessed with Binghamton and the athletics department and everything. I like being a part of the team and being a part of the progress that we’ve made and the history that we’ve made.”

Ilieva led the AE with 468 kills, 4.29 kills per set, 534.5 total points and 4.83 points per set. She was also top 10 in service aces with 109 on the year.

With a variety of incredible moments from this past season, including a career-high 27-kill performance in a win against Delaware State and 19 digs against NJIT, Ilieva said the most notable moment for her was the team’s reverse sweep against UNH in the AE semifinal match.

“It was just so much like a great example of what teamwork looks like,” Ilieva said. “Sometimes we win because our serving was working. Sometimes we won because they couldn’t stop us from hitting-wise. I thought everything came together and that helped us reverse sweep [UNH]. it’s just like, it’s so much pressure, a nerve-wracking moment, and we were able to pull through. I am really proud of that moment.”

Going into her final season, Ilieva said she will pick up where she left off — hoping to win the conference championship. In her time at Binghamton, the team has reached the AE semifinals and most recently, during this past season, the AE championship game, falling short to top-seeded UMBC in three sets. Along with multiple returning players, several newcomers are expected to join the program, and Ilieva is optimistic that 2024 will be the year that the Bearcats can get over the hump.

“That experience that we’ve all had this past season is going to help us show the [newcomers] how it’s going to work, how it is and what the [Binghamton] culture is,” Ilieva said. “I feel like the team chemistry is really good. I hope that we’re going to put everything together, and we’re gonna get the title.”

Being named a captain in her final season as a Bearcat, Ilieva is eager to get back on the court, continue the culture of winning at BU and be a leader for newcomers in the program. She attributed much of her success to the team’s chemistry and culture, something that has developed significantly over the past two years as the wins have racked up.

“I’m trying to set an example since I’m the captain this year,” Ilieva said. “I want to say I want to lead by example. I give it my all in every single practice in the gym and in everything. Teamwork, and team dedication in the gym outside [and] competition, was really crucial for this success.”

Ilieva’s strong relationship with Yaeger, which has only grown, has allowed Binghamton’s success to reach new heights. Even with multiple offers to leave the program, Ilieva has maintained her loyalty as the team has had a complete turnaround in recent years.

“Relationships are really important for me just because I’m international,” Ilieva said. “Being so far away from home, you want to stick to the people that are already close to you.”

With her final year as a Bearcat looming, the end goal in 2024 remains the same for Ilieva and her team — bringing a conference championship back to Binghamton.

“I want to play every game like it’s my last,” Ilieva said. “I will exchange every single individual award for a championship in a heartbeat. If I have to leave my body on the floor to get a ring on my finger, I will.”