By Lauren Amour
A pair of healthy crowds saw the volleyball team extend its winning streak to six after a 3-1 victory during family weekend over Canisius on Nov. 2 and a sweep of Niagara on Nov. 3.
“I think it’s always comfortable when the girls have family and friends around,” Head Coach Jeff Rotondo said. “It was a big weekend for us, we also had five recruits here and their families, so I know it was a lot, but I think they enjoy the comfort of family and friends. I think it definitely made an impact on their emotional state.”
On Nov. 2, the Broncs took on Canisius for the first time since Oct. 6 in Buffalo, New York, when Rider fell to the Golden Griffins 3-2.
Thanks to double-doubles from sophomore setter Anilee Sher and freshman opposite hitter Morgan Romano, the Broncs were able to redeem themselves and cap off a 3-1 win.
Rider won the first set 27-25, third set 25-15 and fourth set 25-19, dropping only the second set to Canisius, 28-26. Sher’s double-double consisted of a career-high 59 assists and 21 digs, while Romano’s comprised of a match-best 25 kills and 16 digs.
Her efforts earned her a 10th-straight MAAC Rookie of the Week honor.
Freshman middle hitter Morgan Koch and junior outside hitter Ali Ward led the charge offensively for the Broncs. Koch recorded a career-high 14 kills and Ward with 10.
Additionally, senior middle hitter Evelyn Shanefield contributed eight kills of her own, one solo block and one block assist. Shanefield’s 260 career block assists rank third in program history.
A season-high five Broncs posted 10 or more digs for the match, and senior libero Rachelle Runyon recorded a season-best 30 digs. Junior setter Danielle Blanco and freshman libero Pamela Loh provided 16 and 13 digs, respectively.
The win against Canisius snapped a previous four-match losing streak for the Broncs against the Golden Griffins.
The Broncs took on Niagara on Nov. 3 to complete their weekend homestand. In their last meeting on Oct. 5 in Niagara, Rider lost 3-1.
Senior outside hitter Alexa Shello finished with a career-high 15 kills for the Broncs.
In the first set, the Broncs quickly jumped ahead 23-15 and won the first set 25-18 to take a 1-0 lead. Runyon’s five digs in the first set elevated her to be the fifth player in program history to register 1,500 career digs.
After Niagara took a 10-4 on the Broncs early in the second set, Rotondo called a timeout. Rider then began its comeback to cut Niagara’s lead to just one, 16-15.
The Broncs rallied to tie the match at 19, and from that moment forward, the two teams went fiercely back-and-forth, with each team reaching more than 30 points. Rider bounced back and won the second set 37-35.
“It was a really long set, and everyone had a lot of anxiety, but we all trust each other, so we just knew we would come out on top,” Sher said.
Rider’s 37 points in the second set was the second most in program history to a 45-43 losing set against Manhattan in 2009. At the time, the 2009 set’s combined 88 points was an NCAA Division I record in the 25-point format. The 2009 set is now the third-highest combined set score in NCAA Division I history.
“It was really exciting to watch, I’m going to enjoy it more watching the film now that it’s over and I know we won it, but in the moment, it was just how are we hiding the weakness and how are we getting the point? It was very nerve-wracking for sure, but it was fun,” Rotondo said.
Up 2-0 on the Purple Eagles, the Broncs were looking for the sweep in the third set. Tied at 21, Rider edged out Niagara 25-23 to win the third set and complete the sweep, 3-0.
Romano’s third straight double-double and tenth of the season, which leads the team, was complete with 17 kills and 14 digs. Sher also continued her strong play with 49 assists.
“It was really fun to be back in Alumni [Gymnasium] and play in front of our friends and family again, but I think our success comes from us working really hard and it just made it even sweeter that we could do it here,” Sher said of the team’s weekend sweep.
This was Rider’s sixth straight win, as they improve to 10-4 in the MAAC and 13-13 overall.
The Broncs are back in action on November 9 and 10 in their last away games of the regular season when they take on Fairfield and Quinnipiac in MAAC play.
As the season winds down, Rotondo and Sher agree that the team is more motivated than ever.
“We’re so excited, we feel like we’re finally playing well together and we’re gelling and we’re learning how to work in the system with all the coaches. I think we all just have a lot of trust and we know that if we continue this play, we’ll be very successful,” Sher said.
Rotondo said, “We keep talking to them about where we can get to if our mindset is good. We talk about character and culture and adversity; we’re doing it so that it’s at the forefront. I think that matters because if we don’t talk about it, mental toughness isn’t there.”