By Dylan Manfre
A late corner opportunity in overtime for Fairfield had everyone on their feet as the Northeast Conference (NEC) title was on the line with the game tied 1-1.
Rider goalkeeper Lena Vandam banged her sick on the crossbar trying to rally the troops and defend the cage.
Fairfield freshman Madison Hoskins had only appeared in the starting lineup twice prior to the Nov. 10 championship game at Wagner College. She made the most of the 33 minutes she played and scored her first career goal, securing the Northeast Conference title for the Stags in a 2-1 overtime victory.
“I think they handled it well. Anytime you’re in the championship it’s always a tense and nervous atmosphere,” Head Coach Lori Hussong said. “For our younger kids to experience that and for our older kids who have been to the tournament but never to the championship round that was really a new experience for almost everyone on the team.”
Fairfield was the first NEC champion to be crowned in seven years as the conference brought back field hockey as a championship sport. The Stags advanced to their third NCAA Tournament in the last five years.
With time running down in the final quarter of play, Rider junior defender Kaitlyn Flemming had the equalizing goal which kept the Broncs’ season alive just a bit longer against the No. 24 ranked team in the country.
“We really were talking about playing together, passing hard and playing smart,” Flemming said.
Rider managed to keep a young but experienced Fairfield team with only one senior at bay a majority of the game as the teams took a combined 16 shots. Of those 16, the first one to find the back of the cage would be off the stick of Julianna Kratz and broke open a scoreless game with under three minutes remaining in the third period.
“When one girl went to pressure the ball the next girl behind them was right there looking for a steal or moving their feet,” Flemming said.
She mentioned that between the last time the teams faced off on Oct. 18 to now, Fairfield displayed some new forms of attacking its way into the circle.
Throughout the game, Hussong never thought her team let up in any way.
“We turned it on strong in the fourth quarter,” Hussong said. “We were down one heading into that quarter and they worked so hard to get the game tied up and make it happen. We had two unfortunate calls in the fourth quarter and went into the overtime two players down.”
Rider ended its 2019 season with a 13-7 record and a 5-1 record in NEC play.