By Carlos Toro
The volleyball team started its final regular season road trip with a pair of losses, but the Broncs have won their last two games and punched their tickets to the MAAC Tournament for the second year in a row.
The Broncs (15-13, 9-7 MAAC) defeated Iona on the road on Nov. 2 and Saint Peter’s at Alumni Gym on Nov. 6.
Head Coach Christopher Feliciano said qualifying for the MAAC Tournament is a testament to how far the program has come.
“It’s a very different feel from last year,” Feliciano said. “Last year, we started out hot and we kind of fell apart at the end. This year’s team has done the complete opposite. We struggled at the beginning, but the kids have not given up. The team is more positive and engaged and they have developed well.”
Rider needed a herculean effort to defeat Iona (5-22, 3-11 MAAC). The Gaels won the first two closely contested sets of the match.
The Broncs got off to a good start in the third set. After a 5-4 start to the set, Rider then went on a 9-2 scoring run to get a comfortable lead. The Broncs did not look back, winning the third set 25-17.
The offensive onslaught continued from Rider in the fourth set. Rider had a 12-3 lead to kick off the set. The Broncs kept their lead strong, finishing the set with a 25-16 victory. The fifth and final set was a lot more competitive early on. With the score tied at five, sophomore right-side hitter Hailey Riede’s kill jumpstarted a 5-0 run in which Rider took care of business and completed the comeback with a 15-8 fifth set victory.
Riede led the Broncs with 12 kills and junior setter Veronica Koval had 42 assists in the win. It was the second time this season Rider came back from a 2-0 set deficit and won the match.
Against Saint Peter’s (0-20, 0-15 MAAC), Rider had far less trouble getting the win. The Broncs had a clean sweep against the Peacocks, winning three sets by scores of 25-18, 25-13 and 25-17.
The third set had the Broncs put its entire starting team on the bench as the second unit came in and still delivered a solid performance. Feliciano was satisfied with the performance of several of the players that came off the bench.
“There were a lot of positives [against Saint Peter’s],” Feliciano said. “We got an opportunity to get a lot of people to showcase what they’ve been doing.”
Junior libero Emma Aldaya also moved into second place all-time in career digs at Rider. She finished with 11 digs in the game and now has 1,584 career digs.
“We’ve really focused on playing one match at a time,” Aldaya said. “We just have to know that every touch matters, whether it’s in practice or in a game. Everything we do contributes to everything we’ve done.”
Rider will finish the regular season at home against Siena (9-16, 8-7 MAAC) on Nov. 12 and against Marist (11-15, 10-5 MAAC) on Nov. 13. The Broncs will be competing in the first round of the MAAC Tournament on Nov. 18. Feliciano is very confident in the team’s chances at making a run in the MAAC Tournament.
“We have 13 kids that believe in us, that believe in our system,” Feliciano said. “I can’t say enough about our kids that have worked tremendously hard. The team camaraderie is great. I think we have a team that can win a match in the MAAC Tournament.”