By Dylan Manfre
Offensive production from underclassmen helped the women’s soccer team to a 2-0 start for the first time since 2012, with wins over Wagner and St. Francis Brooklyn on Aug. 23 and 26.
Sophomore forward Nikki Arrington scored her first two collegiate goals in Rider’s 3-2 double overtime victory against Wagner.
Fellow sophomore back Niamh Cashin assisted on Arrington’s equalizer in the 40th minute. Arrington, who played a career-high 71 minutes, struck again in the 51st minute tying the game at two a piece. All three of her shots were on-goal attempts.
“Once I got [the goals,] the confidence was coming out,” Arrington said. “[It was definitely] a big weight off my shoulders, but I was really focused on winning the game.”
Head Coach Drayson Hounsome recruited seven freshmen to Lawrenceville and five of them comprised the starting group against Wagner. Freshman forward Hailey Russell took advantage of all 69 minutes she spent on the pitch and made an immediate impact, scoring the winning goal in the second overtime.
“It’s always pleasing when a young group of players are scoring some goals,” Hounsome said. “Sophomores and freshmen have been scoring all of our goals. It’s purely [based on] what we saw from the first two weeks of preseason… and they’ve earned those starting positions. It makes everyone good around them and the returners have to raise their game accordingly. They’ve definitely increased the intensity in our training sessions.”
Russell’s first career goal in the 105th minute earned Rider its first victory in a season opener since 2015.
She scored winning goals during her record-setting career at Riverside High School, in Riverside, New Jersey, where she is the all-time leading goal scorer, but said it garnered completely different emotions in a collegiate game.
“College is way different,” Russell said. “[It’s] fast-paced and the team is just so supportive. To get a goal in [double] overtime is a great feeling. The first game I was a little nervous but once I hit the field it was fine.”
Arrington and Russell’s performances earned them the distinctions of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Offensive Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week, respectively, on Aug. 26.
Russell said that scoring her first goal and winning the award was a big weight off her shoulders.
Her rookie campaign got more exciting when St. Francis Brooklyn, who is in its inaugural season of women’s soccer, showed up on Rider’s schedule, facing Terriors’ back and twin sister, Hannah Russell.
Each time the ball rolled in St. Francis territory on Aug. 28 at Ben Cohen Field, it seemed Hailey Russell had a touch on it and Hannah Russell aggressively pressed her on the defense.
Hailey Russell bested her sister’s defense and scored in the 85th minute to put Rider up 2-0 and sealed the game.
The Russell twins were teammates their entire lives from training in the backyard to sharing the pitch in travel and high school soccer. Hailey Russell confirmed that the Broncs’ 2-0 victory was the first time they had ever played the game as opponents.
“It was a little weird, but she’s just like any other player,” Hailey said. “It was good to see her after the game though. Never in an actual game have we ever played against each other. It was different because she knows all my moves since we practice with each other.”
Rider put its perfect record on the line Sept. 1 at Fairleigh Dickinson and the scorekeeper had an easy day as the game ended in a 0-0 draw.
After a full 90 minutes and two 10-minute overtimes neither team found the back of the net and the Broncs’ unbeaten record remained in tact.
Junior goalkeeper Carmen Carbonell faced a season-high 22 shots and had a season-best six saves for the Broncs.
The league announced on Sept. 2 that Carbonell won MAAC Defensive Player of the Week.
The last time Rider played a scoreless draw was Oct. 17, 2015, against Manhattan.
The Broncs’ next match will be at NJIT on Sept. 5 at 6 p.m.
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