By Dylan Manfre
There is a gaping hole left in the cage because of the transfer of former netminder Lena Vandam who had the most extensive resume of any field hockey goalkeeper in recent memory. “Who will be in the goal for game one on March 18?” is one of the many questions the field hockey team will be faced with heading into the season.
Vandam, who was a grad transfer to Towson to pursue her Master’s, only allowed 1.60 goals per game in her career, had a save percentage north of 75% and had 12 career shutouts.
Head Coach Lori Hussong has three goalkeepers on her roster in senior Gillian Gunn, sophomore Kaitlin Tomas and freshman Carlee Fulton. Neither of them have seen time on the field because of Vandam’s strong presence over the last few years and Tomas and Fulton being underclassmen.
Gunn experienced an injury-riddled three years as well, which kept her off the field for competitive action.
“[Gunn] probably has as much experience as Kaitlin Tomas does,” Head Coach Lori Hussong said. “You know, Kaitlin Tomas has a lot of international experience because she’s actually a member of the indoor national team and she’s trained a lot in the offseason with some really good coaching.”
Assistant Coach Dan Hussong primarily works with the three goalkeepers and raved about the depth at the position with a variety of experience and strengths.
Dan Hussong said Tomas had “taken a little lead,” regarding who will start the Broncs’ first game on March 18, but added, “that position is changeable.”
“If she were to falter, we’re not opposed to playing either of the other two, Carlee or Gill, because they work hard in practice, they’re both getting better all the time,” Dan Hussong said. “It’s really kind of a fair fight for the three of them and they audition every day.”
The good thing about the goalies is their undeniable camaraderie and willingness to concede the starting role for the advancement of the team. Gunn has accumulated a textbook of knowledge from observing Vandam’s success in the goal and uses it to orchestrate to conduct the defense. She flexed that knowledge during a recent scrimmage.
“We can see everything in the back,” Gunn said. “It’s most important for the goalies to talk — it’s important for everybody to talk — but it’s important for the goalies to say what they’re seeing so everybody on the field can be directed. … [My team was] really happy with how we communicated and even Coach Dan [Hussong] made a point to say that the communication on the field on both teams was much better.”
Offensively, Rider remains sound and their prowess is likely what allowed them to get second in the Preseason Coaches Poll. The Broncs still have its offensive tandem of junior forwards Julia Divorra and Carly Brosious. Brosious is tied for 20 on Rider’s all-time points list with 58 (22 goals 14 assists) and is two points away from sole possession of 19th and passing Carlee Speeder ‘16, which she will likely do in one of the team’s six games this season.
Freshman Josefina Golppi has also been a standout on the forward line and is poised to make an immediate impact.
Through the eyes of senior defender Kaitlin Flemming, the offense has made a drastic improvement from last season and a combined 12 goals were scored in an intrasquad scrimmage.
“I think that forward line is amazing and I think this year they’re going to do big things,” Flemming said. “We scrimmaged and both teams scored six goals. You could say bad defense, but you could say amazing offense. They are really doing amazing and they’re hitting spots they need to hit.”
Divorra and Brosious combined for 16 goals and 60 points in 2019 and although 2021 is a shortened season that was postponed because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, look for Divorra and Brosious to once again dominate the Northeast Conference (NEC).
“Those two are unlike anyone I’ve ever seen,” Gunn laughed. “The way that Julia gets her reverse chip-offs, it’s not even fair, how good it is … They both look great.”
Lori Hussong is entering her 21st season at the helm of the program and said this year in particular there is no bonafide contender. The NEC is up for grabs.
“The NEC is going to be very, very good,” Lori Hussong said. “There’s not one team in the conference that is a sure-fire win because everybody has really talented players on their team.”
A six-game docket means every game is precious. One COVID-19 case and two games could be canceled. Hussong said teams need to complete at least 50% (three games) of their contests to be eligible for the postseason — which is essentially a championship game because the top two teams make the ‘playoffs.”
Rider is second to Fairfield in the NEC Preseason Poll and Gunn is excited for the opportunity to face them again since the Stags beat Rider in the 2019 NEC final. The 2020 season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think we’re all looking for some revenge,” Gunn said. “Obviously we lost to them in the conference championship which was a really tough pill to swallow. A big thing we keep going back to is when we beat them in double overtime my sophomore year.”
Flemming also has the Fairfield game marked but she is really looking forward to battling Sacred Heart goalkeeper Hailey Power, who is one of the conference’s perennial keepers.
“I got a goal on her last season,” Flemming said, “so I’m looking to put like three on her this year.”