By Jacob Tiger
After starting with an 8-2 record, Rider field hockey found itself fighting for its life. Injuries and poor play in big games caused the Broncs to slip down the standings, jeopardizing their season.
However, the Broncs were finally able to get back on track this week. In their sudden death match with Sacred Heart, the Broncs were able to save their season, and in their final regular season game against Columbia, junior goalkeeper Kaitlyn Tomas, who was out with injury, made her long-awaited return and is ready for the playoffs.
With a healthy Tomas and a huge win, Rider is poised to make a strong push to retain itsNortheast Conference (NEC) title.
When Rider and Sacred Heart entered its Oct. 28 matchup, both were one win away from securing the fourth and final spot of the NEC tournament, and with this being each team’s final game of conference play, it was do-or-die.
In thrilling fashion, Rider emerged victorious by a score of 3-2, clinching the NEC’s last playoff spot, keeping a now 21-year playoff streak alive and extinguishing Sacred Heart’s playoff hopes.
“I think they rose to the occasion. They wanted to provide our alumni with something that they could be proud of and to make the playoffs, and they did a great job in doing that. … It wasn’t our best game but we played well enough to win,” said Head Coach Lori Hussong.
The fans in attendance couldn’t have asked for a more entertaining game, as Rider and Sacred Heart traded goals up until the final quarter.
The first goal came after 12 minutes of play, when senior forward Julia Divorra gave the Broncs the lead.
In the second quarter, Sacred Heart took a hard shot at Rider’s goal and third-string freshman goalkeeper Brooke Golbeski made a diving save to stop the shot. However, she was unable to recover fast enough to stop the follow-up shot, and the Pioneers were able to tie the game 1-1.
Just two minutes later, Divorra responded with another goal, quickly breaking the tie.
The Broncs went into the break with a 2-1 lead after a strong first half offensively, already having taken 15 shots.
In the opening minutes of the second half, Sacred Heart would evade Golbeski again to score on just its third shot of the game.
With the game locked at 2-2 and in desperate need of a game-winning goal, Rider’s offense attacked relentlessly in the fourth quarter. In a span of five minutes, they had earned four corners and taken six shots but were still unable to break through.
“The game plan was to score as much as we could and to execute better on our corners, and obviously we need to really practice that. We really have not executed our corners very well this year and that’s been a spot where we could do a lot better [of a] job,” said Hussong.
Though, the Broncs would soon reap the fruits of their determination, as senior forward Carly Brosious finally found the back of the cage and gave Rider its most important goal of the season.
With the lead and nine minutes left to play, the Broncs simply played keep-away with the Pioneers, eventually running out the clock long enough to punch their ticket to the postseason.
The win would not have been possible without the orchestral play of senior midfielder Tess van Ommeren, as she assisted on all three of Rider’s goals and paved the path to victory.
“Tess is really good at assists. That’s why she’s in the middle of the field. We tried to put her as a forward because she has a great shot too, but we need her to distribute our [offense]. We’ve been playing together for four years, so we know where she’s going to put it and we try to be there every single time,” said Divorra.
Overall, it was an excellent win for the Broncs, managing to come together as a team when they needed to most.
After clinching the NEC’s final playoff spot, the Broncs had one game remaining on their schedule, taking on the Columbia Lions on Oct. 31.
Luckily for the Broncs, they were already locked into the fourth seed and it didn’t matter if they won or lost their regular season closer.
Still, the Broncs played hard, keeping Columbia scoreless and possessing a 1-0 thanks to a goal by Brosious.
With 10 minutes remaining in the game, it appeared Rider would end the season on a high note, but the Lions suddenly pounced in the fourth quarter, scoring two goals to defeat the Broncs 2-1.
The Broncs made some crucial errors near their own goal and Columbia was quick to capitalize on them.
“We played very well, but we just got unlucky in the last minutes of the game, making two critical mistakes that cost us the goals… we needed to pressure the ball at every moment on the field and we took one second off,” said Hussong. “Going into the playoffs, if we play that way, we have a very good chance of doing something really good.”
Despite the loss, Rider did get a big win with its clean bill of health, as Tomas returned to her starting role after missing seven games with a hamstring injury.
“She’s working through the kinks, but she’s healthy enough to play. … It’s just a matter of getting her back into a routine, and getting her ready for our tournament. I think she looked really good. She looked like she hadn’t missed a step,” said Hussong.
A completely healthy roster has been a rare sight for the Broncs, so it’s extremely fortunate and encouraging to see the team look towards the playoffs with no major injuries.
“I’m still sore, but I don’t think it really held me back too much. … It was good to be able to play a game today and have a game under my belt before we go into the playoffs, and this week I’ll be practicing fully, and hopefully, I can play and we can bring home that win on Friday,” said Tomas.
Rider will continue its title defense in a much-anticipated rematch with Fairfield in the first round of the NEC tournament on Nov. 5.