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Bearcats seek return to conference tournament armed with 10 underclassmen
August 27, 2014Tweet
Contact: Terrence Lollie (firstname.lastname@example.org)
VESTAL, N.Y. - Binghamton head volleyball coach Glenn Kiriyama embarks on his 16th season with the Bearcats in 2014 and may face one of his most challenging coaching assignments of his tenure. The three-time America East Coach of the Year is charged with guiding a roster that sports 10 underclassmen back to the postseason. Following an up-and-down 2013, Binghamton failed to qualify for the America East Tournament for just the second time in 10 years after capturing its third America East title in 2012.
“We are working hard as a unit, which is always refreshing,” Kiriyama said. “But we have a long way to go and right now, we are focused on getting better each day we step on the court. I believe this team will be in the mix at the end of the season…you just have to get into the conference tournament and then anything can happen.”
A trio of seniors will be vital to Binghamton’s success in 2014. Captains Amanda Dettmann and Alexa Zbytniewski as well as Kristin Hovie will be heavily relied upon to assist in the development and maturation of the underclassmen. Kiriyama’s core has combined to play in more than 230 matches and each had key roles in the 2012 championship.
“Our seniors are assuming the majority of the leadership roles,” Kiriyama continued. “They are seasoned veterans now and have been influential in helping our younger players. They will have to step up in their new roles both on and off the court if we are going to be successful.”
For the Bearcats, who were picked fifth in the America East preseason poll, the season will greatly hinge upon the play of Dettmann, who begins her fourth year as Binghamton’s setter and quarterback. The Milwaukee, Wis. native currently sits fourth on Binghamton’s all-time assists lists with 3,198 and has a chance to finish her career among the program’s best setters.
“Amanda is the calming influence on the team, both on and off the court,” Kiriyama noted. “The team really leans on her for guidance and leadership.”
The dynamic talent, who has captained the team since her freshman season, is also crucial to Binghamton’s defense and service game. The 2012 America East Co-Setter of the Year has compiled over 700 digs, 100 total blocks and 90 service aces in her career.
“Amanda’s decision-making has improved immensely since last season,” Kiriyama continued. “Knowing when and where to distribute the ball has really helped the learning curve of some of the players. She is much smarter setter than she was a year ago and really is the glue that keeps the team together.”
Learning from Dettmann will be freshman Sarah Ngo, who will step into the backup role for Kiriyama. Ngo won a Tennessee state title at Ravenwood High School in 2010 before transferring to Centennial High where she was a three-time all-district selection.
“Sarah has great hands and moves the ball well within the offense,” Kiriyama said. “She does a good job at keeping the hitters engaged and has absorbed the offense well.”
The most experienced position on the floor for Binghamton is the outside hitters. Each of the Kiriyama’s hitters has seen time on the court led by four-year starter in Hovie. Joining her on the outside is younger sister Allison Hovie and sophomore Kelly Leach. The Bearcats’ lone junior, Megan Burgess, will see most of her action at the right side position.
“The outsides will see the majority of the sets where in years past we have set the middle a bit more,” Kiriyama explained. “I believe it is our most experienced position so we will expect them to perform at a higher rate earlier in the season.”
Kristin Hovie, who has amassed over 800 kills in her three years at Binghamton, will look to bounce back from a 2013 season that was plagued by injuries. Alongside her will be Allison Hovie, who was a 2013 America East All-Rookie selection. The duo combined for over five kills per set and will see the bulk of the sets from Dettmann.
“Kristin and Allison are very comfortable with each other on the court,” Kiriyama said. “We have high expectations for them while they are both still developing. We will need them to contribute in a variety of ways, not just hitting, if we are going to be successful. Kristin is an excellent blocker while Allison’s back row play will be equally as important.”
Rounding out the arsenal of hitters for Dettmann are Burgess and Leach. Burgess finished her first full season as a starter averaging over 2.00 kills per set while Leach saw action in 24 matches. Burgess, a native of St. Petersburg, Fla., has a powerful arm and has grown into a more accurate hitter. Leach is a versatile athlete that will see time in both the front and back rows.
“I think Megan has grown the most since last season,” Kiriyama stated. “She has become a much better blocker and is more accurate with her attacks. If she can limit her errors I believe she can be one of the top hitters in the league. Kelly has developed well and could see significant court time either on the outside or in the back row.”
The middle of Binghamton’s front row will feature a pair of sophomores and freshmen after the loss of two-time first-team all-conference selection Grace Vickers. Tasked to fill the shoes of one of the most productive players in program history will be Bianca Anderson, Shannon Kirkpatrick, Kristella Morina and Alexis LaGoy. Morina and LaGoy are entering their first seasons with the Bearcats and could be called upon to produce early.
“We are very young at the middle position,” Kiriyama noted. “It will be a point of emphasis for us throughout the season as we work to prepare them for the rigors of conference play. We need the young players to buy into what we are teaching and then execute what they learned on the court when they get their chance.”
Each of the Bearcats’ four middles stands nearly six feet tall or higher which will provide support in the blocking game. Anderson has become a more consistent hitter and will be a physical presence while Kirkpatrick’s 24 starts in 2014 will be important. Morina stands 6-foot-3 and should give Kiriyama a solid blocking option. LaGoy led her Baldwinsville team to two New York state titles and was a two-time first-team all-state selection.
“Our middles will have to be effective blockers, even before their offense,” Kiriyama stated. “However, we expect them to contribute immediately and protect their area of the court. More than anything we need them to be aggressive at the net and make things difficult for opposing offenses.”
Kiriyama will have to replace a four-year starting libero and Binghamton’s all-time digs leader in the graduated Xiomara Ortiz. Easing the transition is first-year captain Alexa Zbytniewski, who has settled into a defensive specialist role. Zbytniewski is a gifted athlete that can slide into multiple roles for the Bearcats.
“Alexa is our vocal leader on the court,” Kiriyama said. “She possesses a lot of good insight and I believe the team looks up to her. She has grown into a true leader and a dynamic player. We look forward to her being our co-captain.”
A pair of sophomores will battle for the libero position after receiving a year of guidance from Ortiz. Bailey Walker and Kasey Muchnicki each saw court time in 2013 and are competing for the off-colored jersey, but it has been Walker who has emerged as the frontrunner. Also providing depth on the back line will be freshman Mirei Kato.
“Bailey is an extremely hard worker and has a desire to become the libero,” Kiriyama said. “She has good quickness and speed which equals to her covering a lot of ground. Kasey works very hard as well and her passing has improved greatly. She will see court time this season in the back row no matter what position.”
The Bearcats kick-off their season against four-time national champion UCLA (Aug. 29) in what Kiriyama believes is one of the most difficult tournaments in the program’s history. Following 16 non-conference matches away from home Binghamton will begin its navigation through the America East schedule at Albany on Sept. 26. The Bearcats then head to defending champion New Hampshire on Oct. 3 before concluding a 19-game road trip at UMass Lowell on Oct. 5.
“We emphasized more this preseason how important the early games are,” Kiriyama said. “It starts out tough, with probably one of the toughest tournaments we’ve played in since I’ve been at BU. Every game is going to be difficult, but we want to learn from each match as we prepare for conference play.”
A unique schedule has Binghamton playing all six home matches consecutively commencing on Homecoming Weekend against Hartford on Oct 11. The Bearcats then host Stony Brook (Oct. 11), UMBC (Oct. 19), Albany (Oct. 19), UMass Lowell (Oct. 31) and New Hampshire (Nov. 11). Binghamton hits the road for a short three-game trip for important matches against Stony Brook (Nov. 7), Hartford (Nov. 9) and UMBC (Nov. 14) to conclude the season.
“Conference play is always tightly contested,” Kiriyama noted. “Every game is important as we learned last year, so we’ll use each match as a learning experience. Each year only a few games separate one from four or five. Our goal is to get to the postseason and then see what happens.”