By Andrew Smolar and Glendale Eversley
Rider volleyball started the season off slow as their struggles progressed when they dropped all three of their weekend matches putting them in an immediate hole.
‘I think it was definitely nerves’
In its home opener, Rider was looking to put on a strong showing against Rutgers at the Broncs’ Zoo but came up short as they lost the match, 3-1 in the first of three volleyball games on Sept. 6.
Rutgers got the best of Rider at Alumni Gym. “I think Rutgers’ experience and size kinda helped them pull away from us in sets one and four. … I think it was definitely nerves,” said Head Coach Jeff Rotondo.
Besides the tough loss, sophomore outside hitter Kiannisha Santiago had 10 kills and strong moments through most of the contest. With the great effort from Santiago and her teammates on the floor, the Broncs made things interesting early as the second set of the contest went to win by situation where Rider managed to pull off with the score of the set 27-25.
“We were definitely excited to take the set,” Rotondo said on the set.
But it wasn’t enough for Rider as two stars from Rutgers combined for 23 kills throughout the game.
On Sept. 9, the Broncs were swept by the Wildcats in the start of the Delaware Invitational. The first set started with the two teams going point for point until it was 3-3. Rider then scored three straight points to go up 6-3. The momentum was quickly erased by Villanova going on a 4-1 run to knot the set at eight.
The Broncs then scored another three unanswered points to take the lead back at 11-8. They would hold that lead until a 5-1 run by the Wildcats which turned the set in their favor and gave them a 16-15 advantage.
Rider wasn’t done, responding with another 3-0 run to taking the lead once again at 18-16. They would remain in position to win the set as they held a 22-21 lead, but allowed Villanova to score three in a row before they were able to score two points of their own to tie the set at 24.
They couldn’t seal the deal as the Wildcats scored the next two points to win the set 26-24.
Despite the loss, Rotondo was pleased with a few different things, minus the errors. “I liked our ability to sideout early and block and defend,” Rotondo said. “However, we can’t have eight service errors in a set, that is just really difficult to overcome.”
The second set saw Villanova build up a big lead and hold on rather comfortably. The only lead the Broncs held during the set was when they led 2-0 at the start.
Three Wildcat points quickly erased that lead and Rider never was any closer than a 4-4 tie. Villanova would then go on a 4-0 run to go up 8-4 and never looked back. After leading 9-7, the Wildcats went on a 9-2 run which included six unanswered points to double up the Broncs at 18-9.
The run was more an issue of self-inflicted wounds, according to Rotondo.
“Villanova executed a little better, but we just lost our edge and determination after the 1st set did not go our way,” Rotondo said.
Rider went on separate 5-1 and 4-1 runs down the stretch to make the final look a bit closer but would never seriously threaten Villanova who won the set 25-20.
The final set of the day saw the Wildcats build up a lead early before the Broncs rallied to make things interesting.
After allowing Rider to get the set’s first point, Villanova scored the next four. A separate 3-0 run later on put the Wildcats up 10-6.
The set would then go back and forth for a while before the Broncs provided a surge to even things out. Trailing 15-11, Rider would go on a 5-1 run to tie the set at 16.
Unfortunately for the Broncs, they didn’t have it in them to keep the momentum going after that as Villanova immediately responded with a 7-1 run that was part of an overall 9-2 run to complete the sweep and win the last set 25-18.
Rotondo was not happy with falling behind early, which has seemed to be a big issue this season.
“More disappointed we got that far behind early,” Rotondo said. “Obviously we like the fight late in the set, but there needs to be a deep dive as to why the beginning of sets with low energy is occurring, because it needs to stop.”
Despite the lopsided final two sets, the team statistics were virtually even in kills (32-30), aces (8-6) and blocks (8-5). It was a notable performance for freshman Paige Giehtbrook, who had a whopping 16 kills.
They were defeated by Delaware on Sept. 10, leaving the Delaware Invitational winless as the Blue Hens defeated the Broncs 3-1 with no set being closer than seven points.
“To be honest, I did not see a lot of good we could take away from the last 3 sets,” Rotondo said. “There is no reason we should play Towson and Rutgers as tough as we did, and then only score 13, 11 and 10 points versus Delaware.”
Unsurprisingly, the team statistics were rather lopsided as the Blue Hens had more kills (50-32), aces (9-4) and blocks (9-5). On a positive note, sophomore Kiannisha Santiago provided 10 kills for Rider.
The Broncs will hit the road again as they are set to take on Iona at 1 p.m. on Sept. 16.