Stomping to victory over two more Northeast Conference (NEC) teams has helped Rider’s field hockey team clinch its eighth straight play-off berth as well as the No. 2 seed going into the postseason.
Rider (10-8, 6-1 NEC) overtook Monmouth (4-10, 3-3 NEC) 3-2 in overtime before beating Sacred Heart 3-1.
“We felt this week our team finally played up to our potential,” said Head Coach Lori Hussong. “Our offense took advantage of the scoring opportunities and our defense held strong.”
In order to assure a spot in the postseason, the Broncs set their goals high for the game.
“The Monmouth win was a huge win for our team,” said Hussong. “With that win we clinched our eighth playoff berth and continued to make progress toward improvement.”
Junior Tricia Crotty put the Broncs on the board four minutes into the game off an assist from freshman Margaret Ecke and junior Diana Celebre.
“We came out on fire,” senior goalie Jen LoCastro said to Rider Sports Information. “We put on great pressure and being on the road, in a conference game, it was important to show Monmouth that we were there to play and we came out strong.”
Freshman Allison Vogel widened the Broncs’ lead to 2-0 eight minutes into the second half off an assist from senior Stephanie Walker. Monmouth responded later in the half, scoring twice in a two-minute span to end regulation time with a tie.
Ecke saved the game for the Broncs in overtime when she swept a Monmouth shot off the goal line before clearing the ball down field. Ecke’s defensive move landed a Rider corner in which the rookie found the back of the cage with 52 seconds left to end the overtime.
“It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” Ecke said to Rider Sports Information. “[Stephanie Walker] made her way toward the goal and I was able to pick the ball up and score.”
Adding to the Broncs’ win, LoCastro made six saves as both teams had 16 shots each, with Rider out-shooting the Hawks 7-4 in overtime.
“We played with a higher level of intensity,” Hussong said. “We actually gave up a two-goal lead and had to win in overtime but we showed a lot of character in coming out victorious.”
The Broncs came out on top against Sacred Heart 3-1 in another defining win against their conference opponent.
“Our win against Sacred Heart was one of our best games of the season,” Hussong said. “We played well and executed well all over the field. Everyone is stepping up and we are finally playing more consistently as a team.”
The rookies started off Rider’s scoring when Vogel found the net 11 minutes into the first half with freshman Michaela Franey scoring one minute later.
The Pioneers cut Rider’s lead in half before Crotty scored her team-leading seventh goal of the season to reach the final tally.
LoCastro added six saves to the Rider win as Sacred Heart outshot the Broncs 15-11 while holding an 8-5 penalty corner advantage.
“[LoCastro] had another nice game,” Hussong said to Rider Sports Information. “Our defense also had a solid game and cleared the ball out of the circle better than we have been. That created more scoring opportunities for us.”
The NEC tournament features the top four teams within the regular season conference standings. Defending champions Lock Haven have clinched first place as well as home-field advantage with Rider close behind in second place.
“We are pleased that we placed second and qualified for the playoffs,” Hussong said. “We know that we still have room for improvement and will continue to try and improve as the season progresses.”
Lock Haven eliminated the Broncs 2-1 in the tournament last season, giving Rider motivation while preparing for the postseason.
“We are going to continue to work hard and get better each day,” said Hussong. “Hopefully, with a few days in between our last regular season game we can nurse our injured players back to health and hopefully be at full strength when the NEC championships begin in November.”
In the team’s last regular season game, the Broncs overtook Fairfield 2-0 in a non-conference game.
Junior Mandy Hunter scored her second career goal with only 15 minutes left in the game. Crotty then added her team-leading eighth goal of the season six minutes later to get the final win for Rider.
“It was a great way to finish the regular season off and go into the playoffs,” Hunter said to Rider Sports Information. “We are on a roll now and have some good momentum as we head into the postseason. Everyone got in today and it was a good win.”
The NEC pairings will be announced by the conference office next week before the tournament hosted by Lock Haven beginning on November 2-3.