By Brandon Scalea
The women’s soccer team is headed to the MAAC semifinals for the third consecutive year, following a 4-1 victory over Niagara. The fourth-seeded Broncs hosted the fifth-seeded Purple Eagles on Oct. 31, feeding off its crowd to remain unbeaten at home.
Despite being shutout at Canisius in its final regular season game, Rider (10-6-1, 6-3-1 MAAC) was able to regain momentum and keep its MAAC Title defense alive.
Head Coach Drayson Hounsome was pleased with the performance in the first round, and said this team is hoping to make school history.
“No women’s team at Rider has ever won back-to-back MAAC Championships and made back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “This team is two wins away from doing that.”
The first half was an offensive struggle for both teams, with Rider and Niagara (8-8-2, 6-4 MAAC) mustering only six and four shots, respectively. Right before halftime, however, sophomore forward Alanna McDougall came right from the bench and put the Broncs on the board off a pass from junior forward Caroline Healy.
Hounsome said McDougall’s goal was a testament to the team’s depth.
“Alanna hasn’t played in a couple games but had been showing some good signs in training,” he said. “She’s been hitting some form and has been well-rested so we felt she could contribute. We have 22 players who are focused on getting the job done and it’s important that every individual contributes.”
Leading 1-0 after the break, the Broncs came out flying in the second half. Just 10 minutes in, the Purple Eagles were handed a foul in the box, granting junior back Heather Maierle a penalty kick. With the crowd at Ben Cohen Field standing in anticipation, she converted on the play and gave Rider a 2-0 lead.
Maierle acknowledged that the heat of the moment almost got to her, but she was happy to give the Broncs an insurance goal.
“I was definitely nervous lining up for the PK because I knew it was a huge factor in the game,” she said. “We were actually working on penalty kicks all week so that gave me some confidence. I thought every goal was huge for us in this game but I was excited to give us some energy.”
Midway through the second, Niagara sustained some offensive pressure for the first time and scored on its second shot on goal of the game. It was the first goal scored on junior goalkeeper Bethany-May Howard at home all season, and it cut the lead to 2-1.
But with 17 minutes left, junior midfielder Priscilla Santos became the second Bronc of the game to score right after being subbed in, giving the Broncs a 3-1 lead.
On the goal, Hounsome quipped that his team was making him look like a genius of a coach.
“They were making me look like some sort of coaching guru,” he said. “[Santos and McDougall] scored as soon as I put them in the game.”
Just moments later, the lead was extended to three after junior midfielder Victoria Maley headed one into the goal. This lead would stand for good.
Healy thought the offensive success her team showed in the game was huge, especially after losing in shutout fashion to Canisius.
“The win was definitely very important,” she said. “We had loads of chances in that last regular season game that we wasted. So we knew going into the game against Niagara that in order to win, we had to take advantage of our chances. We now have a bit more confidence in ourselves.”
On Nov. 6, the Broncs will face a huge test when they head to West Long Branch to take on the No. 2 seed Manhattan in the semifinal. Along with the regular season champion and host of the tournament, Monmouth, the Jaspers received a first-round bye.
Healy believes her team is ready for the challenge.
“We’re taking it one game at a time and Manhattan will certainly be a huge hurdle for us,” she said. “Our team is extremely energetic and we thrive off big games. We raise the intensity when we know it’s a do-or-die situation. We’ll be ready to fight.”