By Logan VanDine
In a fairy tale season for the Rider field hockey team, the Broncs won their final two regular season games against Merrimack and Hofstra to finish their season on a nine-game winning streak and clinching the No. 1 seed in the Northeast Conference (NEC) playoffs.
For their efforts, senior goalkeeper Kaitlyn Tomas and freshman midfielder Indy Zoontjens were awarded with NEC player of the week recognition, Tomas earning the defensive distinction and Zoontjens receiving the offensive honor.
‘Peaking at the right moment’
In a season full of ups and downs, the Rider field hockey team made their matchup against Merrimack on Oct. 28 a memorable one. Not only did they pitch their second straight shutout winning this game 6-0, but the Broncs also were able to clinch the 2022 NEC Regular Season Championship with their eighth win in a row.
By making the NEC Tournament, Head Coach Lori Hussong extended a long-running playoff streak to 23 years, longer than some of her players have been alive.
“It’s very much a lot of pressure,” Hussong said about maintaining her streak. “We’re really confident in our kids … they come from a tradition of making it to the playoffs. It’s something that’s on their mind, and they don’t want to be the team that lets the program down and alumni down, so it’s pressure on them as well.”
After a scoreless first quarter against the Warriors, the Broncs were finally able to break through and prove why they’re the best team in the NEC.
“I think we started out a bit nervous because we had to win this game, and then in the middle part, [we were] more focused,” said Zoontjens. “When the first goal when it was just like, ‘Ah, there’s the goal.’”
Midway through the second quarter, the Broncs struck first as Zoontjens added to her already impressive season with a goal that found the cage making the score 1-0. The goal marked her 12th consecutive game with at least one point on the stat sheet.
“I feel more familiar with how everyone plays,” said Zoontjens. “The first month I was just getting used to the feel and to the players, and I think after a few months, I got more comfortable.”
Just minutes later, this time it was sophomore midfielder Alyssa Hoffman scoring her first goal of the season, giving the Broncs a 2-0 cushion.
With four more goals in the third, the Broncs made the game 6-0, essentially clinching the NEC title.
“It’s always good to get the regular season title. We’re peaking at the right moment, and I’m very confident that we’re going to do the best job we can,” said Hussong.
Hussong wasn’t shy when talking about the importance of her team continuing to play at their absolute best if they hope to make a deep playoff run.
“We’re going to have to be at our best,” said Hussong. “All four teams have the potential to beat anybody at any time. It’s going to be a matter of who can be the most productive and take advantage of their opportunities.”
A ‘W’ to close out the season
The Broncs ended their regular season in style against Hofstra in a competitive, low-scoring affair, extending their winning streak to nine games.
Rider took the win with a 2-1 effort over the Pride on Oct. 30 to finish with an overall regular season record of 13-5 and a 6-1 record in conference play.
After a scoreless opening quarter, the Broncs got the scoring started, thanks to a goal by freshman forward Valeria Perales and just minutes later, the Broncs extended their lead to 2-0 off a goal made by senior midfielder Maeve Riehman.
Hofstra responded with a goal of their own late in the second, making the game 2-1, but the Broncs held on from there to pick up the win in the regular season finale.
“We are very proud of our team’s effort. We didn’t play our best hockey today, but played well enough to get the job done,” Hussong said. “We’ve had a few tough weeks physically and mentally with the pressure of trying to qualify for playoffs on the line. Our team has handled it well, but [they] are a bit drained because the regular season is long and demanding. We are going to take this week to rest both physically and mentally and will taper our workouts so that we can be at our best on Friday.”
With the NEC tournament set to get underway next week, Hussong expressed how exciting of an opportunity this is for her team and how they have to treat it like it’s almost a second season.
“It’s the second season and most exciting time of the year. We know that every game is precious and that we must give our best because there is no tomorrow if you lose. Our team is excited, focused and ready. We know that we have to be at our best to get to the final and everyone will do their part to give us the best chance at success,” Hussong said.
The Broncs will now get ready for the first round of the NEC Tournament, as they are set to take on Saint Francis at Wagner University in Staten Island, New York, on Nov. 4, the only NEC opponent to beat them in the regular season.