By Thomas Albano
It was a couple of close and highly competitive matches, but the volleyball team managed to get two victories to become the only undefeated team in MAAC volleyball play.
The Broncs (10-7, 5-0 MAAC) battled at home against Manhattan on Oct. 4 and Iona on Oct. 5. Rider was able to come out on top in both matches 3-2, bringing their winning streak to six, with four of those wins coming against conference opponents.
Head Coach Christopher Feliciano, while enjoying that the team has nothing but wins in the conference, is not looking at any long-term goals just yet.
“One match at a time,” Feliciano said. “Believe in each other, believe in our team and believe in the process.”
The Broncs first hosted Manhattan (9-8, 3-3 MAAC) and were able to take the match 25-18, 17-25, 25-20, 18-25 and 15-11.
Rider easily took the first set. The second, however, saw the Broncs struggle in a set that had 11 ties and four lead changes. Manhattan would win that set before the teams split the next two to force a deciding fifth set.
In yet another back-and-forth set, this one containing seven ties and two lead changes, Rider was able to rally, winning the set and the match.
Feliciano said his team showed character against Manhattan by coming out on top in the fifth set.
“It’s great when you win in three,” Feliciano said. “But it’s something of a testament to the team’s mental fortitude and just the team bond itself when you’re back-and-forth and you’re able to pull one out, especially when we did not play well in sets two and four. I’m just in awe in how our team has grown.”
Key Bronc performers from the match against the Jaspers included senior setter Ashlee Amatulli, who had 27 assists and 16 digs; senior outside hitter Jaclyn Webber, who also finished with 16 digs in addition to 14 kills; and junior setter Brandie Hill, who had 29 assists and 10 digs.
Freshman right side hitter Jennifer Borio, who finished the weekend matches with a combined 23 kills, also credited the rowdy fans in Alumni Gym towards the team’s wins this weekend.
“It’s really nice to play at home,” Borio said. “I love playing at the Zoo, especially when our fans come and support us, so it’s a great atmosphere.”
Feliciano agreed by then adding his own personal thank you to the fans.
“Without the fans in the gym this afternoon, we would have lost the match,” he said. “When we needed that extra push, our fans were behind us.”
The following day Rider hosted Iona (4-13, 1-5 MAAC) in an even more competitive battle. The match totaled 55 ties and 30 lead changes before the Broncs were able to secure a victory 30-28, 22-25, 23-25, 27-25 and 15-11.
The first set started up the competitive flame, not only with the set’s 17 tie scores, but with two controversial calls both in Iona’s favor.
Feliciano, who would end up drawing a yellow card from officials in sets one and three, was not very pleased with the officiating of the match against the Gaels, but thought it helped to show the team’s mental fortitude.
“Today it definitely felt like we were playing seven on six,” Feliciano said following the game. “The officials definitely injected themselves. [The team] overcame that, which is really impressive. Normally we don’t do that very well, and they were able to be mentally tough and find a way to get a win.”
The Broncs would take set one after back-and-forth action, but they would fail a comeback attempt in set two and blow a lead two points away from victory in set three to fall behind 2-1.
After managing to take the fourth set, Rider found itself in the same position as the day before — a competitive fifth and deciding set, and once again, the Broncs were able to get a 15-11 win to clinch the match.
Amatulli would finish the contest with 30 assists, 21 digs and three kills, hitting .333. Webber had 16 kills, 22 digs and hit .232. In addition, sophomore middle hitter Kaitlyn Griffin finished with 19 kills, 7 digs and hit .245.
Griffin credited playing bigger schools, including the University of Southern California (USC), who at the time were ranked No. 5, as part of the reason for the Broncs’ successes so far against conference rivals.
“I think the fact that we went to California and played USC and all these big schools really affected us,” Griffin said. “So when we come to the MAAC, it’s just like we’re used to it. We’re used to playing at such a high level. It really does help.”
Rider finishes off its five-game home stand this week against Delaware State on Oct. 8 and against conference foes Fairfield and Quinnipiac on Oct. 11 and 12, respectively.