By Matt Burrill
The women’s soccer team (2-1) began its season on a high note, earning a 1-0 victory over Seton Hall (1-2) on Aug. 25.
The victory was highlighted by sophomore goalkeeper Bethany-May Howard’s eight saves en route to an opening day shutout. Sophomore midfielder Priscilla Santos carried the team offensively, scoring the game’s only goal just six minutes into the contest.
Howard felt this game showed improvement since the end of the 2013 season.
“We had a young team last season, and after playing a full fall together we’ve really gelled together as a team,” Howard said. “Beating a Big East team like Seton Hall highlights how far we have come.”
Following their win over the Pirates, the Broncs lost in overtime 3-2 at the hands of Fairleigh Dickinson (FDU) (3-1) on Aug. 29. In a game that was controlled by FDU, the Broncs managed to mount a comeback, tying the contest with junior back Tara Ballay’s second goal, coming with just 2:13 remaining in the second half. Howard shined once again, posting a career-high 10 saves in the Broncs effort.
Just two days later, on Aug. 31, the Broncs were at it again, picking up a 1-0 overtime victory over Bucknell (1-2) in sweltering heat.
Head Coach Drayson Hounsome believes the Broncs’ hard work is beginning to pay off.
“Last year we lost to the three teams we have played so far and conceded 11 goals [while] scoring just one,” Hounsome said. “To have beaten Seton Hall and Bucknell and narrowly losing to FDU in overtime, along with two shutouts and four goals, showed the hard work and dedication the returning players have committed to the program in the last 12 months.”
Sophomore forward Michelle Iacono displayed her heroics, scoring nine minutes into the overtime period, which gave the Broncs a bounce-back win.
“We went out there with a strong head, wanting to win, and working together we were able to do that,” Iacono said.
The Bucknell game was yet another thriller. Despite Bucknell outshooting Rider 15-6, the Broncs were able to stay in contention, in part because of Howard’s nine saves in what would be her second shutout of the young season.
Howard knows her offense can find the back of the net. She is more worried about defending her own.
“I know we can score, so if I do my job and make stops, we can get a good result against any team, which showed against Bucknell,” Howard said.
For her performance in the opening three games this season, Howard was named MAAC Defensive Player of the Week. Hounsome thinks that the award was well-deserved, as she is constantly trying to take her game to another level.
“Beth is very good and works very hard at her game with the coaching staff,” Hounsome said. “To go along with that, she is driven and conscientious to improving week in and week out, which is a good recipe for elite performance.”
Coming into the 2014 season, Ben Cohen Field had been a friendly venue for Rider. Before losing to FDU, the Broncs had not lost in their previous 10 home games, something Iacono and her teammates have taken great pride in.
“We know this is our turf, we want to defend it and come out here and win every game to keep our home field advantage,” Iacono said.
The Broncs will try to maintain their home field advantage when they host Temple (3-0) on Sept. 5.
Hounsome understands the showdown with Temple will not be an easy task.
“Temple was a tough game for us last year, and with the resources they have, it should be another major challenge,” said Hounsome. “The players will work hard and continue to improve this week in training, giving the university the best chance of succeeding Friday night.”