By Stephen Neukam
The start of the 2018 campaign has been a 180-degree turnaround for the women’s soccer team. After learning from last season’s seven-game losing streak to begin the year, the Broncs’ got out of the gates fast.
“[We’ve played] different opponents,” said Head Coach Drayson Hounsome. “If you play better teams, you win”
Rider came away with a 2-1-1 record in its first four games of the season, tying 1-1 at Drexel, winning 2-1 against Wagner and Fairleigh Dickinson, respectively, before losing to NJIT 2-0.
Three of the first four games went into overtime, with the Broncs needing second-half goals in each contest to tie the games.
Senior midfielder Kourtney Cunningham scored the tying goal against Drexel with just under five minutes left in the game following a Drexel score at the hour mark. Cunningham would continue the heroics at Wagner.
Facing a 1-0 deficit, senior midfielder Sam Picinich equalized for Rider in the 60th minute, heading in a cross from junior midfielder Valeria Pascuet. Cunningham brought Rider across the finish line after scoring the winner in the 95th minute off a cross from Picinich.
Rider skated on even thinner ice against Fairleigh Dickinson, having to net the tying goal with just 54 seconds left in regulation.
Cunningham was credited with the assist, passing the ball ahead to graduate student forward Emily Curteis who beat the keeper to the left.
The Broncs then completed the comeback in style, with Picinich scoring from beyond midfield when a long pass meant for Cunningham was misplayed by the goalkeeper and bounced over her head in the 99th minute.
“It shows a lot about our character,” said Picinich. “We’ve been really pushing for winning and being the team on top at the end. So it just proves that we’re in it for the full 90 minutes.”
The positive start to the season is in direct contrast to last years campaign for the Broncs, who failed to win a contest in their first seven games and during that span scored 11 fewer goals than their opponents.
“We’ve worked with them over the last 18 months on leadership and it is not an easy thing to do and, often, it is not rewarding.,” said Hounsome. “We are a multinational team with different cultures and different ideas and I think they are doing a great job.”
While the Broncs endured a difficult season last year, finishing 5-10-3 overall, 4-3-3 MAAC, there is reason for optimism when it comes to the current group of players.
Despite getting off to a slow start last season, the Broncs managed to win a game in the conference tournament last year, something the team had not accomplished since 2015.
Rider also has key players returning with another year of experience under their belts. Cunningham, who was second on the team in goals and points last season, sticks out as one of these players who will bring much-needed leadership and production to the team.
“It just gives me more confidence this year,” said Cunningham. “We have a bunch of young girls so I am just trying to be the best role model I can be for them.”
Following three greuling overtime contests, the Broncs lost their first game of the season to NJIT in a 2-0 defeat at home. The Broncs conceded goals in the 31st and 65th minute of the game.
“I think this is the first game that we didn’t bring the high energy that we brought to the last games,” said Cunningham. “There wasn’t a 100-percent work effort from everybody and that is going to lose us games.”
The Broncs next match is their home opener vs. Princeton on Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. The game can be streamed on ESPN+.
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