By Jake Tiger and Andrew Smolar
In a two-game weekend homestand, Rider volleyball showcased its formidable championship-level ceiling, as well as the persistent imperfections that continue to weigh it down. The Broncs fumbled away two precious conference victories, falling in five sets to Siena on Oct. 1 and Marist a day later.
Volleyball dropped a competitive conference game against Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) rival Siena on Oct. 1. In a match that went five sets, the Saints had a little more in the tank than the Broncs.
The first set was tight. Siena scored five of the last seven points to win 25-23.
The Broncs fared better in their next two sets, with the second set tight for most of it. Rider’s largest lead was four, as they took the set 25-22.
The third set ended up being the high point of the afternoon for Rider. The Broncs started the set strong, racing out to a 6-2 lead.
After allowing Siena to bring it within two at 10-8, they took over, scoring 14 out of the next 19 points to build an 11 point lead and win the set 25-16.
Unfortunately for Rider, slow starts doomed them in the final two sets. In the fourth set, the Saints scored the first three points and led by as many as six at one point. Despite making a late rally to cut the deficit to one, the slow start proved to be too much to overcome. Siena took the fourth set 25-22 and sent the game to a decisive fifth set.
Head Coach Jeff Rotondo was pleased to see the fight his team showed, but wanted to see that energy from the start. “Unfortunately, when you dig a hole in the beginning of the set you are forced to play catch-up,” Rotondo said. “Yes, the resolve to come back and make a set of it was good to see but I’d like to see the resolve, focus and intent to start the fourth set that way.”
The final set was the same story as the fourth. The Saints again scored the first three points of the set. With the set only going to 15 points, there was little time to recover for the Broncs. Siena built a lead as large as seven and took the final set 15-10.
Despite the loss, Rider held a lead in essentially every major team statistic. The Broncs had more points, kills, aces, assists and digs.
Unfortunately, errors killed Rider. The Broncs had 26 total errors, including eight in the first set and seven in the final set. The team that committed fewer errors won every set.
“I think there were a lot of self-inflicted wounds, some that showed up on the scoresheet, some that do not,” Rotondo said. “There were a lot of discipline and accountability breakdowns.”
‘An execution problem’
The Broncs’ gloomy weekend became ugly on Sunday, as they again failed to perform in crunchtime, letting a two-set lead slip through their fingertips and into the hands of Marist for a 3-2 defeat.
“We kind of got comfortable,” said Rotondo. “We have to be better in these situations. We have to come out with a little more grittiness… we have to find a way to close them out.”
The first two sets were extremely close, but Rider often found itself in control, playing with a noticeable poise and energy that carried it to a pair of wins to start the match. Rider claimed the opening set by a score of 26-24, before earning a 25-22 win in the following set.
In the 2-0 start, junior outside hitter Jenna Amaro led the Broncs in kills with 10, and senior opposite Morgan Romano was right behind her with nine.
“I think we were really aggressive today and the energy was high,” said sophomore setter Julia Slivka. “I think we just had some errors at the wrong times.”
The tides soon turned, though, as the Broncs got comfortable on their two-game cushion, putting forth a lackadaisical effort and giving the Red Foxes ample opportunity to claw their way back.
“It wasn’t necessarily a matchup problem for us. It was more of an execution problem,” said Rotondo. “We weren’t executing at a high level and I think the dip in energy is what caused that.”
Marist claimed sets three and four by scores of 25-22 and 25-23 respectively, and entered the deciding set with a surplus of momentum.
“Marist is obviously a really good team. but I think we are too,” said sophomore setter Sydney Bond. “There were other key factors that went into our loss today, like injuries and things like that, but we just need to fight through it.”
Injuries were a persistent theme for Rider throughout the match, starting with the loss of freshman libero Keegan O’Connor in the first set. O’Connor was a constant fixture in Rider’s rotation throughout the season, tallying 96 digs in 40 sets played, including 18 against Siena the day before.
Amaro and senior libero Pamela Loh also sustained injuries during the match, as their heads collided whilst diving for a ball in the fourth set. Both Amaro and Loh were shaken up, and neither player returned to the match.
By the fifth set, the Broncs were looking rather thin and it became increasingly difficult for them to foil the Red Fox offense. Despite being given three points off of service errors, Rider still fell to Marist by a score of 15-11 and what looked to be a surefire win had scurried away.
“The way we played today is what we want to see a little bit more of, but you go up 2-0 and they just kinda give away some points here and there and the injuries we had today made it tough,” said Rotondo.
After a lackluster weekend, the Broncs tumbled to sixth in the MAAC standings with a conference record of 3-2. With plenty of unrealized potential, the Broncs look to reroute their season at Niagara University on Oct. 8 at 1 p.m.