By David Pavlak
This is part one of a four-part series on the goaltenders participating in Rider Athletics.
The final whistle had just blown. The sticks flew into the air, followed by the arms of the celebrating team. The scoreboard read 1-0 in favor of Rider.
The objective was accomplished. Rider had just won the NEC field hockey championship against a tough Monmouth opponent. The goal was scored by then-freshman Alicia Govannicci. More importantly, though, was the woman in the mask and pads between the posts that turned away the three shots that found their way on frame.
Her name is Rebecca Lotito, or as her coaches and friends know her, “Tito.” As a senior she now leads the Broncs onto the field for the last time, looking to repeat their NEC championship run.
For someone who plays so well in the net, it is surprising to know that it was just a matter of volunteering in middle school that led her to be the new goaltender.
“I was in middle school when I first started playing field hockey,” Lotito said. “One day, the coach had said that our eighth grade goalie was going to need to be replaced and asked who wanted to try it out. I didn’t like playing the field too much so I figured I’d raise my hand. It turns out that I was the only one to raise my hand and it’s been history ever since.”
Never quitting on being a goaltender, Lotito continued playing in high school, where her coach really helped her to consider playing at the collegiate level.
“My coach in high school always pushed me to do more,” Lotito said. “I joined a club team called The Edge and that has made all the difference. I put in vigorous training hours with my ultimate goal to play in college. Between the support of my teammates, my high school coach and my club coach, I knew that I would eventually compete at the collegiate level.”
Her hard work and dedication paid off. The next decision Lotito would have to make was where she would like to try to play. Living in Oceanport, N.J. Lotito decided upon Rider due to the competitiveness of the program. Lotito looked at the challenge as an opportunity to showcase herself.
“When I was looking for schools to compete for I was most interested in how I would fit into the program,” Lotito said. “I knew Rider was a competitive D-I school, and I liked that. I knew if I worked hard enough I would be able to get the playing time that I felt I deserved. Also, I really liked what the school had to offer. Everything seemed to work perfectly.”
Assistant coach Dan Hussong, who works with Lotito through all the games and practices as the goaltender coach, has liked everything that Lotito has brought to the field hockey program.
“She has learned what I consider the key to success at her position, which is communication,” Hussong said. “A good goalkeeper will orchestrate the field players in front of her to limit the opponent’s chances to score. Tito does this very well. She is tall and aggressive and willing to learn, and that is how she continues to get better. Tito has a great personality and was appointed to be a captain this year. She is a hard worker and encourages others to work hard too. Her defense trusts her and that adds to their confidence.”
Lotito admits that there was bit of a learning curve to head coach Lori Hussong’s and Coach Dan’s style.
“The pace of the game was a little bit faster, but I would have to say that the major difference was adjusting to the coaching style,” Lotito said. “I had trained for four years under other coaches, and when I came to Rider, I had to readjust to Coach Lori and Coach Dan’s style. After about two years I was better adjusted and it has made all the difference. I see the playing time I want to see and I’ve become such a better player because of it.”
During the 2010 season in which the Broncs won the NEC championship, Lotito went 13-2 for the Broncs and allowed 10 goals through the whole season. Lotito was not the starter for the team at the beginning of the season though, and it took some time on the bench to really push herself to get the time in net.
“I came into the season as the second half or benched goalie,” Lotito said. “The freshman goalie was playing in front of me and I felt I deserved to be the starter. What began to change that was the fact that I didn’t give up. Every day at practice I came prepared to work my hardest. I knew from there on I had to play my best. I went undefeated until we played Albany for the NCAA play-in game. In order for us to win the NEC again, we not only need a vivacious offense but an impenetrable defense.”
That is not to say that Lotito’s individual statistics are to be cast aside. Last year, the NCAA honored her on field ability with two commemorative plaques: one for lowest goals-against average and one for most shutouts.
Arguably one of the most exciting games of the year last season for Lotito and the Broncs was the NCAA play-in game against Albany. Rider was unfortunately on the losing side of the decision, as the final score read 2-1. With the disappointment of the loss came a renewed hope in this year’s program to repeat what they had accomplished last season, and then to take that final step further.
“Losing to Albany was a tough loss because we had such high hopes to make it into the NCAA’s,” Lotito said. “I think that set the standard for this year. We are not allowed to slack off and be complacent with where we are. Every single person on this team knows that we need to work harder every day and to expect more from each other. Losing in the play-in game could possibly be the best moment for this team because it gives us something to work for, something to earn.”
When the field hockey team is mentioned, Lotito is usually left out of the conversation. Senior Virginia Egusquiza and sophomore Sandra Penas are the names synonymous with the team due to the excitement on the field. This does not faze Lotito in the least, however.
“This question always makes me smile a bit, mostly because Virginia and I are roommates and we have been since day one,” Lotito said. “When someone asks if it bothers me, I always think, ‘That’s my best friend, why would I be bothered?’ The other reason why I smirk is because goalkeepers are a different kind of athlete, especially in sports such as field hockey. We play a team sport yet our position is so individualized. Due to this, we also know that we don’t get the main headline articles. Whether I have just gotten used to that is not something that bothers me. My main focus as a goalkeeper is to not let the ball in the net. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
With the field hockey season underway, the Broncs have already set their sights on the NEC championship and NCAA play-in. The Broncs are currently 8-1 with a lone 5-2 loss coming from Hofstra University.
“We did have one bad loss, but that is a part of the game,” Lotito said. “I can take the wins with the losses and I accept them not as a defeat but rather a lesson. I was scored on five times. As you could imagine, that was not a great moment for me. After reflecting on the loss, however, I was able to find what was most important to change about our defense. I believe that loss helped us the same way the loss against Albany did last season.”
Coach Hussong knows he has something special in Lotito, and knows that her replacement will have big shoes to fill after this coming season.
“Tito has grown as a player, and as a person because she is open minded,” he said. “She accepts correction and criticism with grace and continues to improve, even as a senior. She’ll be tough to replace.”
After all is said and done though, Lotito just wants to be a role model for younger female athletes looking to continue their craft at the collegiate level.
“Kids in high school still hear about the players that have gone on to college,” she said. “I know the goalkeepers at my old high school either know me personally or have heard about me from my coach or other players, so I wouldn’t want to set a bad example. Also, I am a coach. I coach goal keepers for a club team and I know that they are at an impressionable age. It is my responsibility to ensure that they know right versus wrong and are well prepared for college.”
As Rider is on its quest for another impressive NEC championship run, Lotito is confident in herself and her teammates to be able to play at the highest caliber possible. Just as long as they play like a team, they will be ready, she said.
“We know the level we need to be able to compete at, we know where our flaws were and we are willing and ready to make the changes necessary,” she said. “As a team, we are playing with more fire, intensity and skill. We are in better shape and we will be prepared for the NEC conference.”