ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — A new America East women’s soccer season kicks off Thursday, and the University at Albany is aiming to build on a strong first season under head coach Sade Ayinde.

Following a slow start in non-conference play, the Danes went 7-4-5 over their final 16 games, reaching the conference semifinals for the second straight season.

But last year’s semifinal match was a tough one to swallow, losing to top-seeded Binghamton University on penalty kicks.

The team clearly has not forgotten just how close they were to the title. In fact, that game proved that an America East crown is well within their reach.

“I think ’cause we were so close in that game – it was back-and-forth the whole, entire time – we knew we could’ve had that,” said sophomore forward Emily Jozak. “The anger (we had) that we could’ve been in that championship…I think we’re going into the season really strong, and we’re ready to compete in the conference.”

“It did motivate us because we were that close,” added senior midfielder and Niskayuna graduate Olivia Piraino. “It sucks that we lost, but now we have something to be like, “We got it this year.” The biggest thing is we all work together. We all want the same thing, and we do want the ring this year. I think we’re gonna do it.”

The pieces are certainly in place for another deep postseason run. Jozak returns as the reigning America East rookie of the year; she was joined on the all-rookie team by fellow sophomore forward Selma Elverum, who led the Danes in assists (5). And Piraino is coming off a third straight all-conference selection.

Piraino is one of nine seniors/graduate students on the roster, and UAlbany’s experience is shaping up to be one of its’ most underrated assets.

“I feel like we’re starting at a better spot than we did last year,” said Ayinde. “That’s probably the most exciting thing. We’ve been able to build from where we ended, versus having to start and build from nothing. Us being able to tweak things on the fly – that is probably the biggest thing. We have a little more space to do a lot more things.”

The Danes were picked fifth out of nine teams in the America East preseason coaches’ poll. They’ll get their season underway Thursday with a home matchup against non-conference foe Hofstra.

Kickoff from Tom & Mary Casey Stadium is set for 7:00 p.m. The match will stream live on ESPN+.