By Trey Wright
Following an upset victory over No. 25 ranked American on Oct. 2, the Rider Field Hockey squad kept the momentum rolling this past weekend, defeating bitter rival Fairfield 3-1, and shutting out Sacred Heart 2-0 on the road.
‘You don’t lose on this field’
Big upsets are commonplace in college sports, but two back-to-back big wins prove a team is ready to throw down in conference play. That was the case as Rider squared off against Fairfield, defeating their top Northeastern Conference [NEC] competitor in a key 3-1 win on Oct. 7.
“There’s no room for error right now since we lost to Saint Francis; everyone knows that our backs are up a little bit to the wall,” said Head Coach Lori Hussong, “This was a really good start to get back in the right direction, but every game that we play in the NEC is going to be a challenge because there is nobody that’s a slacking team.”
Prior to the Broncs’ first home game since the semester started, a very special ceremony was held in honor of Play for Cathy night, a breast cancer awareness event, with senior midfielder Hannah Hartwell, a cancer survivor, receiving a standing ovation.
“It’s really a beautiful thing to see everyone come together and support a cause so big,” said Hartwell, “To see so many people have your back, and to have a team that supports you, it’s really, really important.”
Donning pink socks on the pitch, the Broncs got the scoring going midway through the first quarter, with freshman midfielder Indy Zoontjens tipping in a pass from fellow freshman forward Serma Said, trickling past the Fairfield goaltender off of a penalty corner to take an early 1-0 lead.
The Stags responded three minutes later with their own corner, sailing a shot past Broncs senior goalkeeper Kaitlyn Tomas to even the score.
Things looked heated in the waning seconds of the first quarter, with a barrage of corner shots coming from Fairfield, but Tomas and the rest of the Rider defense held serve in the backfield.
Up front, Zoontjens took the lead back 1:12 into the second quarter, scoring her second goal of the game and seventh of the season.
For Zoontjens, this was the sixth game in a row she has recorded a goal or assist.
“It was a bit stressful, because it was an important game, [but] the first goal took a little bit of the pressure off,” said Zoontjens, who went on to extend the streak to seven games against Sacred Heart. “I think we can only go up from now. We had a big loss a week ago, and now we have back-to-back big wins.”
A string of five penalty corners would swing in the Stag’s favor late in the third quarter, but once again, Tomas and the Broncs defense held firm to protect the lead.
That lead doubled with eight minutes remaining in the game, with Said netting a goal of her own to seal the deal for the Broncs, who would close out Fairfield 3-1, being over .500 for the first time since Sep. 9.
“I believed in my team, and I knew that if I got their backs, they would have mine,” said Tomas, who stopped nine of 10 shots. “I stepped up and did my job, because they were playing so great in front of me.
“There’s no easy goals, and this is our house,” said Tomas. “You don’t lose on this field.”
Hussong said, “The last few games have been phenomenal for Kaitlyn [Tomas], and we hope she’s going to keep springboarding forward.”
Sacred Heart shutout
It was back on the old dirt road after a brief spell at home, but nonetheless Rider found victory over Sacred Heart, shutting out the Pioneers 2-0 for their third consecutive win.
Both goals came within the first 10 minutes of the opening quarter, with freshman forward Valeria Perales burying a shot a few hairs under five minutes into the match, and senior midfielder Maeve Riehman doubling the lead 9:41 into the game.
SHU looked to cut the lead in half midway through the third quarter, when a penalty stroke was awarded to them, but junior goalkeeper Carlee Fulton deflected the attempt to preserve a shutout.
“The real hero of the game was goalie Carlee Fulton,” said Hussong, “When [Fulton] came into the game and stopped Sacred Hearts penalty stroke in the second half, it inspired our team to dig down and fight harder.
“Had they scored the tone and the momentum of the game would have been in Hearts favor,” said Hussong.
The Broncs indeed locked down and dug into the pitch, and the Broncs held on to their seventh win of the season, simultaneously earning their third shutout in 12 games.
“We need to stay focused and ready to cash in on our chances to score,” Hussong said after the match. “We are a mixture of young and old but we’ve got tremendous leaders in Sierra [Giuliano], Kiki [Van Ommeren], Kaitlyn and Maeve who have experienced the pressure of conference play and are leading by example.”
The Broncs, now with a record of 7-5, travel to Stone Hill for the first time in program history at 3 p.m. on Oct. 14.