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2009 Binghamton Volleyball Season Preview

Outlook

As the 2009 Binghamton volleyball season approaches, the team is preparing to make a run at the America East Championship. BU returns three first-team all-conference juniors from last year's conference runner-up squad. Last season, the Bearcats advanced to their fifth consecutive conference tournament and BU last won the league title in 2005.

"We are really optimistic about this season," head coach Glenn Kiriyama said. "We have a good core coming back. We have three first-team all-conference members and they have a lot of experience. We are looking for their leadership this year and we are looking forward to starting the season. We got one member of this team that experienced the 2005 tournament championship (senior Brianna Strong). I know she is hungry for another one and the others have come close, so there is a lot of motivation on our team this year."

The rest of the league is also a strong believer in this year's Bearcat squad. The six America East head coaches voted Binghamton as the preseason favorite to win the 2009 championship.

"It's a nice honor to be picked first in the poll. It just means that our program has come a long way to gain the respect of the other coaches. But we know that it is a long road to the end of conference and much can happen in the meantime. We'll be taking it one day at a time, trying to improve each day, to be as competitive as we can be when the time comes."

Kiriyama is the reigning America East Coach of the Year and enters his 11th season as the head coach at Binghamton. Assistant Coach Rachel Refenes will join Kiriyama on the sidelines for the 2009 season. Refenes enters her first year at Binghamton and is a former All-American middle from Ball State.

Outside Hitters

Junior Michelle McDonough returns to anchor the outside hitting corps, which is the strongest unit on the Bearcat team. The junior is a returning all-conference first team pick who posted 3.56 (3.93 in conference play) kills per set, which ranked second in the America East. The team MVP in 2008, McDonough also earned the distinction of being named to the Collegiate Volleyball Update's National Team of the Week.

"Michelle has gotten even better from last year," Kiriyama said. "She's a powerful athlete, probably the most powerful in the conference and she's going to be a force to reckon with this year."

McDonough is a multi-talented player who ranked fourth on the team last season in both blocks and digs. She also recorded a triple-double (12 kills-11 digs- 10 blocks) in her only start as a middle hitter. She will also serve as a team co-captain.

Junior Anna Lejina made a huge impact to the Bearcat squad in 2008 after transferring from the University of Latvia. Lejina was dominant in conference play, posting a league-best 4.10 kills per set. The all-conference first team selection also tied the program record for most kills in a match, tallying 29 in a five-game set against Maine.

"Anna was a dominating hitter at times last season and we're hoping that she continues to improve and hit for a higher percentage this season."

Junior Sandra DeVito will also be in the rotation as an outside hitter.

Middle Blockers

Senior Dawn Lammert will return to the middle of the net for her final season at Binghamton. The 6-1 middle became the seventh consecutive Bearcat to lead the America East in blocks (1.07 blocks per set, 111 total). Lammert will also serve as a team co-captain this year.

"Dawn's coming into her senior year and she definitely wants to end strong," Kiriyama said. "Even though she led the conference in blocking last year, I think she'll improve even more. This year we will also be looking for a little more offense out of her."

Binghamton finished the year tied with UMBC for the team lead in blocks per set with a 2.21 clip. This was the second year in a row that BU has been at the top of the blocking rankings.

Junior Mercedes Montford will assist Lammert in the middle after showing signs of her future potential during stretches of her sophomore season. Montford started in 21 matches for Binghamton including 20 of the final 22. She also ranked second on the team in blocks to Lammert with a 0.86 block average, which was good for eighth in the conference.

"Mercedes will continue to be a weapon for us on both offense and defense."

Freshman Alex Roland will also provide depth to the middle blocker position. The 6-0 native of Austin, Texas has a good volleyball background with solid experience.

"Alex is a big, strong girl and a powerful athlete and we're going to be counting on her to be a contributor this season."

Setters

Junior Lindsey Mueller will once run the Bearcat offense from the setter position. Mueller has led the Bearcats in assists during both her freshman and sophomore seasons and was named to the all-conference first team in 2008. Mueller led the conference in assists during America East play and posted an overall mark of 10.23 assists per game.

Mueller racked up three America East Setter of the Week awards during her sophomore campaign and ranked second on the team in both hitting percentage (.225) and digs (2.41 per set).

"Lindsey comes back with a lot of experience," Kiriyama said. "Last year, she ranked second in the conference in overall assists per game and she'll look to improve on that this year. She'll continue to spread out the offense and get everyone into the match."

Sophomore Julie Chambers and freshman Elana King will serve as Mueller's back-ups.

"Julie has improved quite a bit since her freshman year and she's pushing for time at the setter position. She just needs a little more experience and she will see some time on the court this year. Elana's a good athlete; she's quick and has a good jump."

Libero/Defensive Specialists

Senior Brianna Strong is set to don the libero jersey this season after former Bearcat Jaclyn Strader manned the position for the past four seasons. Strong is a versatile player who started the 2008 season on the net before an injury moved her to the back row. After playing exclusively on the back line for the past 10 matches of the season, Strong averaged 2.57 digs per set.

"Brianna has a knack for being in the right place at the right time on defense and can get a good jump on the ball and in reading the opposing hitters," Kiriyama said.

Kseniia Sukach, a newcomer from Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, is a utility player who will see action in the back row as well as on the net.

Also on the back line will be newcomer Jen Fiorentino, as well as senior Julia Vint, one of the team's top servers.

Schedule

As usual, the Bearcats will feature a very competitive non-conference schedule, which includes two NCAA participants from a year ago - Yale and Siena. Binghamton will also face 11 non-conference foes that finished the 2008 season with an RPI better than Binghamton's final mark.

"The competition level of our schedule is just as demanding as the last couple of years," Kiriyama said. "We will be traveling to four quality tournaments in September and look forward to the challenge. We are also looking forward to the return of our home tournament and playing in front of our home crowd."

After taking on Marshall, Rhode Island and Hofstra in the opening weekend, the Bearcats will head to the Marquette Tournament, which will be a homecoming for a trio of Bearcats who hail from the Milwaukee/Chicago area.

The highlight of the preseason will be the Binghamton Invite, which will mark the first Bearcat-hosted tournament since 2004. The Bearcats will welcome in Cornell, Fairleigh Dickinson and Towson.

Binghamton's final two tournaments will be the Army Tournament and the Yale Classic.

The Bearcats will host Siena (Sept. 30) as their final non-conference tuneup before heading to New Hampshire (Oct. 2) to kick off the America East portion of their schedule. The first conference match in the West Gym will be against UMBC on October 16. BU is 26-7 at home over the past four years.

Binghamton will have the challenging task of facing three-time defending champion Albany twice in three days. The two schools will hook up in Albany on Friday, October 25 before squaring off again on Sunday in Vestal. Last season, the Great Danes knocked off Binghamton in the conference championship game and have been picked to finish in second place, behind the Bearcats, this season.

The Bearcats will close the conference slate at home on November 13 against Hartford with the four-team AE tournament being held the following weekend at the conference's top seed. BU will be looking to advance to the tournament for the sixth consecutive year.

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