By Carlos Toro
For the first time in its history, the Rider volleyball team has begun its conference schedule winning its first six matches.
The Broncs (11-9, 6-0 MAAC) accomplished this feat on the road by sweeping Quinnipiac on Oct. 3 and then beating Fairfield 3-1 on Oct. 4.
Head Coach Christopher Feliciano acknowledges the historic start as a great thing for the program; he also knows that his squad is capable of reaching even newer heights.
“We are playing very good volleyball, but not our best,” Feliciano said. “I’m really happy of the way we’ve improved, and credit should go to our senior captains for keeping the team together. If we can start MAAC play 6-0 and still have things to work on, then we are in great place.”
Rider’s first set against Quinnipiac (1-14, 0-4 MAAC) was a relatively close affair, as Rider narrowly led the opening set 14-12. However, the Broncs went on an 8-2 scoring run which gave them the cushion needed to win the opening set 25-21.
The following two sets were dominated by the Broncs, winning 25-10 and 25-13 to complete the game sweep. The win against Quinnipiac was the fifth straight victory in conference play for the Broncs, making it the second season in a row that Rider began its MAAC season 5-0.
There were several notable performances in the game against the Bobcats, including freshman Hailey Riede who led the team with 12 kills and had a .458 attack percentage. Junior middle hitter Kaitlyn Griffin had 11 kills on a .714 attack percentage. Rider had the lead throughout almost the entire game, save for one instance where the Bobcats pulled ahead early on in the third set.
Griffin also made history, eclipsing the 1,000-point mark in her Rider career. Despite acknowledging the great honor, Griffin also gave credit to her teammates who helped her achieve this milestone.
“Honestly, as a middle blocker I rely on my passers and setters to get me the ball,” Griffin said. “They have been doing a great job, which makes my job much easier.”
The Broncs went to play Fairfield (6-8, 2-3 MAAC) on the road, hoping to beat the Stags for the first time since 2009 and win for the first time at Fairfield’s home court since joining the MAAC in 1997.
The match started with the Stags leading Rider 4-2 in the opening set, but the combined attack of Riede, Griffin, junior outside hitter Ryan Ackermann, and sophomore right side hitter Jennifer Borio, amongst others, propelled the Broncs to take control of the game from that point forward, winning the first set 25-20.
But the Stags rebounded. In the second set, after leading 11-9, they scored seven straight points which gave Fairfield a big enough lead to close out the set with a 25-17 victory.
From that point forward, Rider started getting its offensive rhythm in place, winning the third set, 25-21, and dominating the fourth and final set, 25-16.
Ackermann and her teammates were excited about getting the win at Fairfield and starting the conference schedule with a 6-0 record, but she recognizes that there is still work to be done and that the season is a long one.
“Starting conference play 6-0 is a great feeling,” Ackermann said. “Of course, we want to keep going, and we are always working our hardest to get to the next win.”
Rider was led by senior setter Brandie Hill, who compiled 23 assists and 10 digs, with sophomore setter Veronica Koval adding 13 assists and nine digs. Griffin had 17 points and nine kills against Fairfield. Sophomore defensive specialist Emma Aldaya had 15 digs.
The conference road trip continues as Rider faces Manhattan on Oct. 10 and Iona on Oct. 11. Feliciano believes that the team will not rest on its laurels.
“That’s the great thing about this year’s team,” Feliciano said. “Their mindset is so much more improved. We take it one match at a time.”