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For Immediate Release: August 23, 2006
Contact: Anthony G. Naglieri (sports@binghamton.edu)
Phone: 607-777-2956

Binghamton volleyball set to defend conference title
Bearcats vie for third straigh trip to America East postseason in 2006

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VESTAL, N.Y. - America East titles and NCAA Tournament appearances once seemed like lofty ambitions for the Binghamton volleyball program.

Such feats, however, have become tangible annual goals following a historical 2005 campaign, which saw the Bearcats amass a DI-best 20 victories and record their finest regular season performance to date, with a stellar 10-2 mark and second-place finish, en route to earning its first-ever conference championship and subsequent berth to the NCAA Tournament.

With five starters and 11 letterwinners returning from last year's record-setting squad, the Bearcat women head into 2006 with the opportunity to solidify themselves as a perennial power within the America East ranks as they vie for their third trip to the conference championship in as many years.

For eighth-year head coach and reigning America East Coach of the Year Glenn Kiriyama and a program coming off its finest season to date, expectations are running high.

"After last season's success, we're certainly a much more confident team," said Kiriyama. "We now know, particularly within our league, that we are capable of winning any time we step out on the court. We have a challenging road ahead of us, but I think it will serve as motivation for our girls to work hard and continue to raise their level of play."

In the middle of it all: Three '05 All-America East selections anchor returning unit

Leading the way among returning players is a trio of all-conference performers from 2005 in junior Jacki Kane and seniors Megan Hoag and Ashley Meffert.

"They are definitely our leaders," Kiriyama said. "Each one has the ability and experience under their belts to elevate their games and we will need them to do just that to be successful."

Since arriving at Binghamton, Kane has been a key defensive cog in the middle for the Bearcats. After earning honorable mention and all-rookie honors as a freshman, Kane was once again an imposing force up front in 2005, leading the conference with 1.37 blocks per game on her way to being named first-team all-conference as well as the Most Outstanding Performer at the America East Championship. She also ranked second on the team with 2.50 kills per game and led the squad with a sterling .295 attack percentage.

"Jacki has looked very sharp this fall," Kiriyama said. "She is always continuing to improve and I expect this season we will see her become even more of a force offensively along the front row."

Hoag is coming off a 2005 campaign in which she garnered honorable mention all-conference recognition as the Bearcats' court leader and team captain. The 6-0 middle blocker finished among the team leaders in kills, digs, blocks and attack percentage. She has been the team's strongest and most consistent server over the last two seasons and finished 2005 ranked 25th in the nation with an average of 0.55 service aces per game.

"Megan is counted on for her leadership both on and off the court," Kiriyama said. "She works as hard as anyone on our team and is consistent in all phases of the game."

Completing the trio is Meffert, a staple at Binghamton's setter position over the last three seasons. An honorable mention all-conference selection in 2005, she ranked second in the conference with 1179 assists while leading the Bearcats in digs with an average of 2.67 per game. Already the program's all-time assist per game leader; she heads into her senior season only 570 assists behind Sarah DeClemente '01 on Binghamton's all-time list.

"Ashley is one of our most experienced players," Kiriyama said. "She has an excellent knack for utilizing our hitters to the best of their abilities. Heading into her final season, she has really developed a strong court sense."

Returning to anchor the back row defense is sophomore Jaclyn Strader. Last season, Strader's quickness and passing abilities immediately became an integral part of the Bearcats' team defense and serve reception. She ranked second on the team with 2.60 digs per game and was one of only four Bearcats to see the court in every game.

"Jaclyn did a tremendous job for us last season," said Kiriyama. "She has improved in every facet of her game and I expect we will see her role expand quite a bit this year."

Despite the absence of any graduating seniors, Binghamton did lose a pair of important pieces from its 2005 squad in outside hitters Katie Brody and Brianna Strong. Brody was named first-team all-America East in 2005 after leading the squad with a 3.63 kills-per-game-average, while Strong's efforts were rewarded with all-rookie honors.

"Any time you have to replace someone who has had as great an impact as Brody did last season, it is going to be a challenge," said Kiriyama. "We have the personnel. As a team we will just have to step up and elevate our game."

Binghamton's effort to overcome the departure of two all-conference selections will be boosted by the return of senior Katie Robertson to the Bearcats lineup. After having her season end prematurely in 2005 due to a broken fibula, this fall Coach Kiriyama expects Robertson will pick up right where she left off.

"Katie has worked hard to battle back from last season's injury. We again will count on her to produce and to provide leadership both up front and in the back row."

Fellow upperclassman junior Kathleen Schauer also figures to take on a more prominent role this season for the Bearcats. Last season, Schauer appeared in all 32 of the team's matches, finishing among the team leaders in assists, blocks, digs and kills. This year, the Colorado native is expected to take on a different role, as she transitions from the right-front hitter position to the left side.

"Kathleen is a very gifted athlete," said Kiriyama. "This year with her move to the left side, more opportunities should exist for her to hit than in years past. She is a hard worker and I expect she will be up for the challenge."

Joining Robertson and Schauer up front is sophomore Ashley Allen. Allen averaged 3.20 assists and 0.36 blocks per game while appearing in 17 matches as a freshman in 2005. This fall, Kiriyama plans on utilizing the versatile second-year player in a variety of roles.

"Ashley has improved quite a bit since her freshman season," said Kiriyama. "She has both the height and experience to be a good blocker and to contribute as a hitter on the right side. She distributes the ball very well and should prove to be a valuable asset in the front row. "

After appearing in 17 matches as a freshman, sophomore defensive specialist Katherine Courage is also expected to take on an increased role this fall.

"Katherine has a chance to make a large contribution in our back row," said Kiriyama. "She is a very hard worker, who is gifted defensively in serve reception and possesses strong ball control."

Rounding out the list of returning players is senior setter Shadi Movahedian and junior hitters Rachel Ayers and Ashley Hoin.

"As a group, this lot has really improved a great deal. They are constantly pushing our starting unit to keep on their game. Not enough can be said about the effort they to continue put forth."

New to the squad this fall is middle blocker Dawn Lammert. A Wisconsin native, Lammert, was a two-sport standout at Arrowhead High School, excelling in both volleyball and track and field.

"Dawn is a welcome addition to our team," said Kiriyama. "She has the size (6'1) to be a pretty good blocker and we expect her to contribute quite a bit at different positions along the front row."

Schedule highlighted by five dates with 2005 NCAA Tournament qualifiers

The reigning America East champion Bearcats will celebrate their sixth season of competition at the Division I level when they open their 31-game slate August 25-26 at the sixth-annual Rocket Classic in Ohio. The 2006 campaign is highlighted by five dates with NCAA Tournament participants from a year ago.

"This will be one of our most difficult non-conference schedules we've taken on to date," said Kiriyama. "We are playing in some very challenging preseason tournaments which should help us to determine our lineup and see what kind of contributions we can expect when conference play comes around. It will be tough, but it will be good preparation for the stretch run."

The following weekend, Binghamton makes its first-ever trip to the Golden State as the Bearcat women travel to the campus of Cal State Fullerton Sept. 1-2 to compete in the Four Points Titan Classic.

Here, the Bearcats will compete against a strong three-team contingent including the College of Charleston, the reigning Southern Conference champions. The Cougars are fresh off a banner year in 2005 in which they posted a 32-2 mark and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, a first in their league's history.

Binghamton will then return to the East Coast where they will compete on successive weekends at tournaments hosted by a trio of Ivy League institutions: Harvard (Sep. 8-9), Cornell (Sep. 15-16) and the University of Pennsylvania (Sep. 23-24). Run-ins with defending Patriot League and Northeast Conference Champions American and Long Island Universities highlight these dates.

Other notable non-conference matchups are set to include road dates with Siena (Sept. 20), the MAAC's top squad from 2005, and Syracuse University (Oct. 3).

America East Schedule: Perennial power Albany poised to return to championship form

The Bearcats' America East title defense will begin, very fittingly, with a home date September 29 against SUNY rival and 2005 regular season conference champion, Albany.

Led by two-time America East Player of the Year, Blair Buchanan, Albany figures to be the largest roadblock in the Bearcats' pursuit of a repeat trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2006. The Great Danes return six starters and seven total letterwinners from last year's squad that finished with a program-best 28-4 mark.

Binghamton will play a total of seven home contests at the West Gym, hosting all six conference foes along with Colgate (Oct. 25). After running off a program-best 7-1 overall home record, including a perfect 6-0 mark against conference opponents, the Bearcat women will strive to maintain their home dominance in 2006.

"The fans created a very fun atmosphere last season," said Kiriyama. "Having that kind of support behind you definitely gives you a boost. It's going to be exciting to get out in front of our home crowd again this fall."

Down the stretch, Binghamton plays four of its final five conference matches away from the West Gym, including a difficult three-game stretch to wrap up the 2006 regular season that features consecutive trips to UMBC (Nov. 5), New Hampshire (Nov. 11) and Maine (Nov. 12).

After catching much of the conference by surprise during last year's magical run, Kiriyama expects the road to another conference crown for the reigning champion Bearcats, selected to finish second in the preseason coaches' poll, to be challenging, but within reach.

"We're going to have our work cut out for us. Although the expectations have been raised, we still have the same goals as we did headed into last season, and that is to be on top at the end of the year. It is definitely going to be tough but, I think we have the potential to get it done."

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