By Dylan Manfre
Rider or Fairfield’s undefeated record would be broken in the biggest Northeast Conference (NEC) field hockey game of the season in front of 111 people in Fairfield, Connecticut.
Rider was the one to go down at the hands of Fairfield on Oct. 18 as a late goal from freshman attacker Julianna Kratz sent the game into overtime where the Stags improved to 3-0 after a 2-1 victory.
Junior defender Kaitlyn Flemming scored the lone goal for the Broncs.
“We knew going into the game it was going to be a battle the whole time,” Flemming said. “After two quarters going by and there was no score we knew we were biting the nail a little bit trying to get a goal. Around five minutes left in the game, obviously they’re really pushing to get a goal so every free hit we had coming out of the circle they had high pressure.”
Fairfield gained sole possession of first place in the NEC with the victory and both teams have five games remaining on their schedules. The conference can go either way should either team drop a few of those games.
It took until the third quarter for the scoring to open as Flemming got the Broncs on the board with a late lead. After a quiet first half, Head Coach Lori Hussong was not surprised the game was scoreless for as long as it was.
“Every game we play with them it’s always a one-goal-differential game,” Hussong said. “Julia [Divorra] and Carly [Brosious] are double and triple teamed every time they have possession of the ball and we weren’t really able to get the ball up to them as much as we should have. Even if we did, there was immediate pressure.”
Rider found a similar explosion from the offense in its game against Hofstra on Oct. 20 as the Broncs did when the teams faced each other a season ago.
This time around, Hussong said Rider changed up its offensive formation and played with four midfielders and two forwards instead of three of each.
Flemming, who was named an NEC Prime Performer of the Week on Oct. 22 said she liked the change.
“It worked really well as a team,” Flemming said. “We pressured the ball and that’s how we were able to get four late goals. This week at practice we’re going to at least see how it works again and see if that is the best fit for us attacking wise.”
After allowing a goal midway through the second period, Flemming, along with sophomore midfielder Carly Brosious scored goals in the third quarter. Sophomore midfielder Tess van Ommeren converted a penalty corner which gave Rider a 3-1 lead heading into the final 15 minutes.
What is a game without a Divorra goal? With three minutes left in regulation, she scored her 13th goal in 14 games en route to a 4-1 victory.
At this point in 2018 the Broncs were 10-5 overall and junior goalkeeper Lena Vandam, who is the reigning MAAC Goalkeeper of the Year, recorded four shutouts — she has allowed a goal in every game this season and has a goals allowed average of 1.52.
Rider’s next few games are critical, and it cannot allow teams to get early goals and gain momentum. Although Vandam has been scored on 22 times this season, Hussong said that she is still the No. 1 option.
“She’s just going to work her hardest to try and keep the ball out of her cage and go from there,” Hussong said. “It’s not something that will hold her back. She’s the type of player that when a game is over, it’s over and she moves on. She knows from this point on she needs to be spot-on and give her best performances for us. I think the chemistry between the three goalkeepers is really good. They push each other to be at their best. Lena learns from them as well. They coach each other.”
Traveling to Hofstra was not new territory for the Broncs. However, in terms of the surface they played on, it was. Hofstra’s field hockey complex is water-based AstroTurf which is commonly used in Europe and the international game. Hussong said this made it easy for some of the international players.
“Our team scores a lot easier when we play on water-based turf than we do on AstroTurf. You can do so much more. Your skills are sharper, the passing game is sharper and you don’t have to use as much strength to pass the ball.”
Ben Cohen Field is made of grass-based AstroTurf — this can slow down the game according to multiple players.
“It’s two totally different games,” Hussong said. “I would equate it to having a different gym floor.”
Rider has an NEC match with Bryant on Oct. 20 at 4 p.m on ESPN3.
Follow Dylan Manfre on Twitter for the latest on Rider field hockey.