By Brandon Scalea
The field hockey team played for a conference title for the 12th time in 15 seasons under Head Coach Lori Hussong, but fell to top-seeded Monmouth on Nov. 9, 6-1.
The Broncs (11-9, 3-2 MAAC) had to battle to get there, however. In the semifinals, they took on third-seeded Quinnipiac. The Bobcats (8-11, 3-2 MAAC) outshot the Broncs 23-13, and junior goaltender Joelle Prettyman, this year’s MAAC Co-Goalie of the Year, had to make nine saves, several from point-blank range, en route to a 3-1 Rider win.
Two freshmen midfielders contributed on the scoring sheet, including the first career goal from Kesheal Henderson just 1:59 into the game. Allison Baligian scored her team-leading eighth goal of the year just five minutes later.
The shots were even at halftime, with nine apiece. The Broncs expected the Bobcats to come out flying in the second half, and they did just that. The Bobcats dominated possession and kept the pressure on Prettyman. With 5:24 left in the contest, Quinnipiac finally got one past the Bronc goalkeeper to cut the lead in half.
Rider answered right back off a penalty corner. Senior back Dezarae Fillmyer set up junior back Melyssa Alonso with a perfect pass, who put it home with 2:49 left.
Hussong has led Rider to the four-team conference playoff in all 15 seasons as head coach. Until last season, Rider was part of the Northeast Conference (NEC), winning six times under Hussong. On Nov. 9, Rider looked to bring home the MAAC title for the first time.
In-state rival and top-seeded Monmouth (13-7, 4-1 MAAC), despite falling to Rider on Oct. 17, had other plans. The Hawks rallied behind a hat trick from senior forward Amanda Schoenfield and dominated the Broncs. Prettyman was able to make 10 saves, but Monmouth kept the ball in Rider territory for seemingly the whole game, outshooting them 19-4, and holding the Broncs to only one shot in the first half.
Hussong gave Monmouth credit where it was due.
“Their home surface gave them a huge advantage,” Hussong said. “They played a great game and executed to perfection all game long.”
Schoenfield opened the scoring at the 17:05 mark of the first half, followed by a second goal with 7:48 left by O’Dwyer. A late third goal from the duo gave the Hawks a 3-0 lead at the end of the half.
With less than 30 minutes left in the game, the Broncs were able to get on the board off a one-timer by sophomore midfielder Carlota Alsina from the top of the circle.
Schoenfield fired back for Monmouth just three minutes later for her third goal of the game, and it was all Monmouth after that.
The Broncs looked to respond but could not get much going past the Monmouth defense. The home team added two more goals before the final horn, to seal a 6-1 victory and the MAAC title.
It was Monmouth’s first win over Rider since 2009.
Baligian said despite not being able to get the MAAC title, it was a great year for a team mostly comprised of freshmen and sophomores.
“This year was a rebuilding year for us,” Baligian said. “We were so young and were still getting used to the speed of the collegiate level. Next year we will know what to expect and no one will beat us.”
Next year, the Broncs have 16 letter winners returning to the roster and will look to take their first conference title since 2012.
“Our biggest positive moving forward is that we improved as the season went on,” Hussong said. “We will get better as our team gets physically stronger and we improve our toughness.”