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BU volleyball hopes NCAA experience propels them to new heights
Five returning starters lead Bearcats into 2010 campaign
August 26, 2010
Binghamton, coming off its second America East championship in five years, is aiming for back-to-back titles in 2010. The Bearcats return five starters, including three all-conference selections, from a group that gained valuable experience playing in the first round of the NCAA tournament against the eventual national champion, Penn State.
“The team has a lot higher expectations this season now that they have been to the NCAA’s,” head coach Glenn Kiriyama said. “We look to build on our tournament bid and improve our performances in the non-conference tournaments. Last year was an up and down season for us, so we need to be more consistent throughout the season. Our goal is to vie for the conference championship.”
For the second consecutive season, the America East coaches have chosen Binghamton to win the conference championship. The Bearcats will seek to improve on their 5-5 conference record from last season and secure their second straight bid to the NCAA’s.
“The players have worked hard to get to this position of competing for the conference title,” Kiriyama said. “We all know that there are many intangibles, many unknowns and that so much can happen during the course of the season. The level of play in the conference has increased greatly over the past few years and we expect it will be a tough fight all the way to the end.”
The outside hitting position will be the strength of the Bearcats with two veterans, Michelle McDonough and Anna Lejina, returning to the squad. McDonough, a senior captain, is coming off yet another impressive year when she was the Bearcats lone first-team all-conference selection. She finished first in kills per set (4.00) during conference play and ranked second overall in both kills per set (3.83) and points per set (4.21).
“Michelle has been a steady influence for us over her career and she will be looked upon to carry the load and lead this team,” said Kiriyama. “Michelle is probably our best all-around player, both in the back and front row. She works hard and continues to improve every day.”
McDonough displayed her versatility on the court, ranking second on the team last season in digs (271) and service aces (21). McDonough’s senior leadership and power from the outside will be key staples for the Bearcats in 2010.
Lejina continued her dominant play as an outside hitter in 2009. Pairing her up with McDonough on the outside should present a formidable force for conference foes. Lejina earned second-team all-conference honors as a junior, she ranked third overall in both kills per set (3.80) and points per set (4.19). Her .248 hitting percentage was good enough for sixth in the America East and tops on the team. Lejina tallied 182 digs and 38 blocks, both good for fifth on the team last season.
“Anna is a go to player for us and can be a dominant force from the outside,” Kiriyama said. “Her game has come a long way as a result of her hard work. We look forward to her being a little more consistent so we can rely on her more often.”
Senior Sandra DeVito saw plenty of action for the Bearcats in 2009, making 29 starts. Her senior leadership will add to the experience of the outside hitting corps. She ranked fourth on the team with 140 kills. DeVito exhibited her all-around play from the outside hitter position in 2009. She ranked second on the team in assists (62), third in service aces (18) and fourth in blocks (46).
“Sandra was asked to play the right side for us last year and she did a good job,” Kiriyama said. “This season she will get a look at both the right and left sides. Her hitting continues to improve which will help our offense immensely.”
Newcomer, Iva Partaleva, a sophomore transfer from Seminole State College in Oklahoma, will provide depth at outside hitter. The 5-11 native of Bulgaria showed promise in her first collegiate season and should be a significant addition to an already potent unit.
“Iva has a lot of junior college experience,” Kiriyama said, “she is a good hitter from either side of the court and we need to find a place for her on the floor. She’ll be one of the newcomers ready to step on the court for us immediately.”
Replacing the presence of 2009 captain Dawn Lammert at middle blocker will be the responsibility of sophomore Alex Roland and senior Mercedes Montford. Roland, an America East all-rookie selection, played vital minutes for the Bearcats in 2009. Her blocking skills in the middle will play a crucial role in the team’s success. Roland tallied 70 blocks during her first collegiate season, which ranked seventh in the America East. Roland revealed her hitting power in 2009, totaling 116 kills, placing her fifth on the team.
“Alex stepped in during her freshman year and had some great matches for us and was a difference maker at times,” Kiriyama said. “We expect her to improve her blocking and hitting so that she can be an even greater force for us in the middle.”
Senior Mercedes Montford will aid Roland in the middle by providing experience and depth at the position. After an injury plagued 2009 season, Montford looks to bounce back and be a presence in the middle for the Bearcats.
“Unfortunately, Mercedes was injured most of last season,” Kiriyama said. “She is a gamer though. We believe Mercedes will present herself as a factor in the middle and help replace the absence of Dawn.”
Freshman Grace Vickers will help reinforce the middle blocker position. The 6-0 Pleasanton, California native has a strong volleyball background with solid club experience.
“Grace is a strong hitter with a lot of physical qualities we like and she will definitely be fighting for playing time,” Kiriyama said.
Senior Lindsey Mueller returns to quarterback the Binghamton offense in 2010. Mueller, the Most Outstanding Player of the 2009 America East tournament, was named AE Setter of the Week on three different occasions. She received national honors for her performance during the Binghamton Invite. She was one of eleven players nationwide named to the Top Performer of the Week list by the Collegiate Volleyball Update (CVU). Mueller led the team in assists for the third straight season with 1,084, ranking second in the conference.
Mueller’s knowledge of the BU offense will be essential for the Bearcats in 2010. Her steady presence on the court allows Binghamton to be a more dynamic offense by getting everybody involved. She led the team in service aces (23), finished third in digs (254), while compiling a hitting percentage of .195, placing her fourth on the team.
“Lindsey has done an exceptional job for us over the past three seasons and we obviously look forward to having her back again this season,” Kiriyama said.
Julie Chambers, a junior, will serve as Mueller’s backup at the setter position. Last year, Chambers saw action in 19 matches, playing 29 sets. Chambers demonstrated her quickness on the court, picking up 14 digs in limited action. The growth of Chambers during her collegiate tenure could prove crucial for the Bearcats.
“Julie has worked extremely hard and has a lot of training under her belt from playing spring ball,” Kiriyama said. “We know she will be a reliable back up for Lindsey.”
The libero position will be the biggest mystery for coach Kiriyama in 2010. Brianna Strong, the 2009 libero, was lost to graduation after admirably filling the shoes of BU great, Jaclyn Strader. Who will replace Strong is undecided going into camp but a fierce battle for the position is expected. Jen Fiorentino and Kseniia Sukach are two returners poised to compete for the position while newcomers Xiomara Ortiz and Jordyn Suhr are also expected to get a look.
“Replacing our libero will be very tough, so our defense in the back row could be questionable,” Kiriyama said. “We lost some talented defensive players, so we will be working to see who will fill in the back line.”
Fiorentino, a junior, played in 18 matches, tallying 34 sets while Sukach, a senior, saw limited action playing just four sets. Fiorentino showed promise during her playing time creating scoring opportunities with her digging ability. Fiorentino finished the season with 33 digs, displaying her capability to move well on the court.
“We believe Jen can help us at the libero position based on her experience,” Kiriyama said. “Kseniia has worked diligently to become a better defender. Her service/receive is one of the strongest on the team and that may be a specialty for her this season.”
Ortiz, a freshman from South Setauket, New York, will provide depth for the Bearcats on the backline. Ortiz played for the Long Island Volleyball Academy gaining valuable playing experience. Suhr made waves for herself playing on the BU club volleyball team and was a new addition to the squad this past spring.
“Z is a very quick defender and extremely aggressive in the back row,” Kiriyama said. Jordyn is your consummate team player, who works very hard to improve her game. Both girls will help rebuild our backline.”
The fight for the libero position could result in one person taking over the reins or having a libero by committee. Either way, the unproven back row will be eager to show their talents early in the season.
Kiriyama put together another difficult non-conference schedule for the Bearcats in 2010. Binghamton will face two NCAA participants from the 2009 season - Michigan and Niagara, who faced each other in the first round. Michigan advanced to the NCAA regional finals before losing to Hawaii. The Bearcats are no strangers to Big Ten powerhouses, losing to Penn State in both of their NCAA appearances, (2005,2009). Eight of Binghamton’s 15 non-conference opponents finished the season with a higher RPI ranking.
“The non-conference schedule will be challenging, every tournament has good competition,” Kiriyama said. “Michigan was a top-10 team last season, advancing to the elite eight and coming out of the Big Ten, they are Penn State-like, which we have seen before. Facing three teams out of the competitive Big East (St. John’s, Georgetown and Syracuse), will prepare us for our America East schedule. The non-conference schedule will answer a lot of questions for us and we will be able to settle into a strong lineup for the season.”
The Bearcats will start their season at the Rocket Volleyball Classic, hosted by Toledo where they will face Loyola (Md.), Michigan and Toledo. Following their trip to Ohio, Binghamton will take on Dartmouth, Atlantic Sun conference runner-up Jacksonville and the Northeastern conference runner-up Sacred Heart at the Sacred Heart Invitational.
Binghamton will to travel to Niagara (Sept. 8) before competing in their final two tournaments, the UB Blue and White Classic and Georgetown Classic. The trip to Washington, D.C. features a matchup against Southern conference regular season champion, Furman. The Bearcats are slated to travel to Siena (Sept. 22) and Syracuse (Sept. 29) as they prepare for conference play to begin.
BU’s America East schedule commences with a trip to UMBC (Oct. 3) before the team finally plays its first home match against New Hampshire on Oct. 8. Binghamton will face conference newcomer, the Providence Friars on Oct. 11 for their second consecutive home match. The friendly confines of West Gym have been good to the Bearcats over the past five years, as BU owns a 32-11 (.744) record at home.
For the second straight season Binghamton will have the daunting task of a home-and-home series with regular season champion, Albany, in just three days. The two schools first meet in Albany on Oct. 22 before battling again two days later in Vestal. The Bearcats exacted revenge for their 2008 conference championship loss by knocking off the Great Danes in the 2009 title match, ending their three-year run as America East champions.
The Bearcats close out their conference schedule with Hartford on Sunday, Nov. 14 before the four-team AE tournament begins the following weekend at the conference’s top seed. BU will look to advance to the tournament for the seventh consecutive season and bring home back-to-back championships.
“The competition gets tougher every year,” Kiriyama said. “The team is focused and looking forward to the conference schedule. We’re not sure what the outcome will be, but we’re looking to end up near the top, if not the top.”