By Lauren Amour
The volleyball team competed in two doubleheaders and lost both ends on Sept. 6 to Toledo, 3-1, and Fordham, 3-1, and swept matches against Norfolk State and Radford on Sept. 7 in the Radford Invitational Tournament.
The honors are the first time a MAAC rookie has won them back to back since sophomore setter Anilee Sher did so for Rider twice in the 2018 season. Romano seeks to be the first to win three straight rookie of the week awards since Fairfield’s Alexis Rich at the beginning of the 2018 season.
The split saw freshman right side hitter Morgan Romano win her second consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Rookie of the Week.
The Broncs also took home MAAC Libero of the Week honors thanks to senior libero Rachelle Runyon. The award is the fourth in Runyon’s career with Rider and her first of the season.
Despite a strong performance from Romano in the opening game of the Sept 6. doubleheader, in which she recorded her second career double-double with a career-high 24 kills and 10 digs, the Broncs only took the second set and fell to Toledo, 3-1.
Rider once again found themselves in an unfavorable spot against Fordham and were in the hole two sets to none. The Broncs rallied to pick up the third set, 25-21. The fourth set, however, did not help out Rider and Fordham took the victory with a match score of 3-1.
Still in search of their first win of the season, the Broncs entered the tournament on Sept. 7 with an 0-6 record. The start to their season was the program’s worst since 2007, when they started off the season with six straight losses before picking up their first win.
On day two of the invitational, another doubleheader was in store as Rider attempted to escape a seventh and eigth straight loss and avoid duplicating the skid the 2000 Broncs team, who finished their season 1-25, experienced to start their campaign.
Romano continued to impress with her performance, putting up 14 kills against Norfolk State. The MAAC Rookie of the Week meant a lot to Romano.
“It was really exciting for me, especially because it was the first one,” Romano said. “I honestly wouldn’t have gotten it without my teammates and my coaches helping me and pushing me to play to my potential.”
Romano also raved about her new teammates and coaching staff.
“All the girls were really welcoming when [the freshmen] came in,” Romano said. “On the court, they’re always encouraging to everyone no matter what. They’re a great group of girls. The coaching staff is a really good change for the team, and although it’s my first year, everyone seems to like them. They’re really encouraging, and I think this season is going to be a good one.”
Sophomore setter Anilee Sher shined in game one and recorded 23 assists in the match. Defensively, Runyon had eight digs and fellow senior middle blocker Evelyn Shanefield registered four blocks.
Solid offense and defense eventually led the Broncs to a 3-0 victory over Norfolk State. The win was the first-year Head Coach Jeff Rotondo’s first for the Broncs.
“It was a sigh of relief,” Rotondo said. “We came close the previous weekend, so to get that first one felt good. Not only for me to get one under my belt, but for the team because I know they’ve really been working hard.”
Determined to keep their momentum going after getting their first taste of victory for the season, the Broncs came out strong in game two against Radford. Consistent offense, which included four different Rider players accumulating seven or more kills, helped the Broncs to a victory over the Highlanders in straight sets, 25-12, 25-19 and 25–12.
Rotondo’s hope is that the Broncs will maintain the energy they showed in the last two games.
“We just seemed to play more together today,” he said. “We had moments of it against Toledo, and we know it’s going to take time because we’re installing new systems and terminology, so we know there’s going to be moments of confusion. But today, it just felt like everything clicked. [The team] showed a great level of determination.”
Rotondo wanted the team to learn from both their wins and losses in nonconference play.
“I’m hoping that what we take out of this is that we have been in almost every match,” he said. “I hope [the team] takes out of it that if we stay within our team’s systems and trust each other on the court, we can compete with a lot of good teams.”
The Broncs’ first MAAC matchup will be held on Sept. 21 against Iona in Alumni Gym.
Rider will take a trip to Princess Anne, Maryland, to compete in the Henson’s Hawk Invitational for a three-game set. The tournament is the first the Broncs have played in Princess Anne since 2016, when they went 1-3 at the University of Maryland Eastern Shores (UMES) Invitational.
On Sept. 13, Rider takes on UMES at 7 p.m. and on Sept. 14, it competes in another doubleheader, with game one against Robert Morris set for 1 p.m. and game two against Hampton at 4 p.m.
The Broncs follow up tournament play by returning to Lawrenceville for their home opener on Sept. 21, also serving as their MAAC conference opener as they host Iona in the Alumni Gym at 1 p.m.
All four of Rider’s matchups in the UMES Invitational will be broadcast live on ESPN+.