By Dylan Manfre
There was almost a normal setting for Rider volleyball’s victory in its home opener against Saint Peter’s. The sideline table was set up with normal seating; no plexiglass was set up around the broadcast table, the premium seating in the gym was available for paying fans and not covered by Hercules Tires advertisements.
This was not the case when Rider played its makeshift spring 2021 season, which resulted in a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) title.
Rider athletics has held outdoor events this fall largely without a hitch. The teams utilized Ben Cohen Field to play games. Students showed their Campus Clear app, and outside fans signed a COVID-19 waiver form. Sept. 25 was the first indoor sporting event in the Alumni Gym with fans since early March of 2020.
Players on both teams were dancing and lip-syncing pregame warmup songs such as “Dreams and Nightmares” by Meek Mill and “Papas” by Farruko. Players were not wearing masks while they were playing, which is a noticeable change from last year when noses and mouths were covered as they soared through the air. They were, however, required to wear them while on the bench.
Being here almost feels completely normal. Everyone has electric energy. The SP players are dancing to ‘Papas’ by Farruko. Clearly happy to be here. pic.twitter.com/I48jEMEzZY— Dylan Manfre (@Dylan_Manfre11) September 25, 2021
Even before the game, Rider held a pregame ceremony for senior setter Anilee Sher and junior opposite hitter Morgan Romano.
Sher became Rider’s all-time assist leader with 3,114 and Romano was named Rider’s 2020-2021 Co-Female Athlete of the Year.
Rider athletics honored senior setter Anilee Sher for becoming Rider’s all time assist leader. And Morgan Romano (tweet below) for being named Rider’s Co-Female Athlete of the Year. #MAACVB pic.twitter.com/yXJO5OcciU— Dylan Manfre (@Dylan_Manfre11) September 25, 2021
These are normal events, from the appearance of the gym to the game-day preparation and it definitely made Head Coach Jeff Rotondo feel good.
“When I came into the gym yesterday and all the bleachers were out, it just finally felt somewhat normal,” Rotondo said. “It was going to be great to have family and friends and some of the people they know from school here.”
The crowd was sparse for the game which Rider swept in three sets. Fans trickled in and cheered loudly as Rider was showcasing an open house to prospective students as they watched some competitive volleyball. Rotondo said he’d score this game a “B-” even after his team got its third straight MAAC victory.
“[I feel] so-so,” Rotondo said. “I know I hate to say that but we win in three [sets] and obviously there’s some things we did really well. There are some things we need to be better at in the execution phase.”
Rider got out to an early lead but Saint Peter’s erased it quickly as leads and spikes over the net went back and forth. Rider’s junior opposite hitter Morgan Romano, who was named MAAC Player of the Week on Sept. 28, had five kills at the media timeout putting the Broncs up 15-14.
Later in the set, Saint Peter’s cut the lead down to two as the Broncs closed in on an opening-set victory. senior outside hitter Jillian Chan ended the first set with a spike that descended across the court.
The second set saw the two teams trade points and exchange impressive blocks at the net. Rider was the first team to score 20 points in the set again and pulled away by its biggest margin, 25-16.
Routinely, when Romano spiked the ball, Saint Peter’s players were impressed and erupted in “oohs” when a teammate successfully blocked Romano. She finished the game with 21 kills.
She elaborated on the strong practice the Broncs had yesterday where they went through six-on-six scrimmages and felt in sync with each other. Romano attributed their win today to a successful practice.
“Everyone [was] making great plays,” Romano said. “Jeff [Rotondo] even said right after that, ‘That’s what it looks like to be back-to-back MAAC champs.’”
The Broncs will play games two and three of their three-game homestand against Siena on Oct. 2 and Marist on Oct. 3. Both games will be at 1 p.m. and will be streamed on ESPN+.