By Dylan Manfre
Four hundred and forty-nine days after the field hockey team played its last contest, the calendar showed it had a game to play. Aso, Lena Vandam was not starting in the cage for the Broncs for their games against Long Island University (LIU) on March 18 and Merrimack on March 22.
Head Coach Lori Hussong gave sophomore Kaitlin Tomas the nod during the 1-0 win over LIU on March 18, after she had a year observing Vandam from the sidelines. The most action she saw was the six penalty corners. Five of them came in the third quarter, which can be really nerve-wracking for a new goalkeeper.
“When our girls come back, we remind each other of our roles and then we go at it,” said Tomas who only found out she would be starting five minutes before the team began its warm-up. “Basically what’s going through my head is ‘OK. I’m ready, we got this, we’re going to get it out and it’s going to be OK,’ because we’re all confident in it.”
Tomas admitted the pregame jitters were there, and more so for her because she had not played a competitive field hockey game since high school as she backed up Vandam last year.
Hussong said the Bronc’s defensive stronghold in front of Tomas was a big factor in the victory.
“The true key to the win was [senior defenders] Brittany [Romanczuk], Kait Flemming and [freshman midfielder] Maeve Reiman’s play,” Hussong said. “They played really outstanding, but LIU is actually a very good team and their defense was really potent.”
Rider’s defense only allowed three shots from LIU, and only one was an on-goal attempt.
Eventually, the Broncs did penetrate LIU’s circle and junior midfielder Carly Brosious scored the lone goal off an assist from sophomore midfielder Siera Giuliano in the first quarter.
Rider’s offense seemed to not miss a step from when it last took the field, despite the lengthy layoff. Brosious credited LIU’s defensive effort too.
“They played all as a unit. They played very well,” Brosious said. “They tried to man-mark [junior midfielder] Julia [Divorra], but Julia somehow got out of it. They played really tight defense which was really good and hard to get through.”
Brosious, along with Divorra, is one of the best offensive tandems in the Northeast Conference (NEC) and having that stature means getting double-teamed often. She said moving away from the ball is the best way to escape the double coverage.
LIU’s defense had a lot of action with Divorra and Brosious leading the charge on their end. LIU goalkeeper Rachel Vellis is one of the premier talents in the NEC and tallied four saves off 10 Rider shots. Vellis posted a .745 save percentage and 2.35 goals-against average in 2019.
“She played really well,” Hussong said. “I thought it was a good first game for both teams. There were some things we need to work out but now that we have something to work from — because we’ve been competing against each other — that we can go forward and work on. … Overall, we’re really happy with the result. The kids gave their best, they never quit [and] they played some really good team ball.”
Divorra showed why she is the top offensive threat in the NEC on March 22.
The junior had a hat trick in the first quarter and didn’t look back — not for a split second as she finished with three of Rider’s seven goals in its 7-0 win.
She remained unfazed by any defender or double team effort Merrimack had on her, which occurred multiple times As a Merrimack defender was a forearm’s length away at all times.
Hussong laughed and said she thought Divorra could have scored more.
“Especially in the first quarter, we were really connecting well and really playing team ball,” Hussong said. “I think they came with the passion to score today whereas the other day we weren’t as passionate and came out with a lot of energy. I think they passed well and complemented each other so well on the field with their passing combinations that it made it very hard for Merrimack to keep up with us.”
Senior defender Brittany Romanczuk, who was responsible for two of the seven goals, is always surprised with how eloquently Divorra executes her reverse chip shots.
“It’s literally crazy,” an excited Romanczuk said. “They’ll be the weirdest angle and they just always go in. She can shoot 10 of them and eight will go into the net.”
Regarding the defense on Brosious who traditionally sees double teams like Divorra, well, there may have been some unintentional physical distancing on Merrimack’s end. Her second quarter goal was a no-doubter once she got inside the circle.
By the start of the final quarter, Rider was up 7-0 which ended up being the final score. Hussong went very deep into the bench because of the big margin.
Even Tomas was subbed out for senior goalkeeper Gillian Gunn and then Hussong swapped Gunn for freshman goalkeeper Carlee Fulton. Hussong does not remember the last time she made a goalkeeper change midway through the game but was encouraged to see strong performances from everyone who saw action.
“They’re definitely confident,” Hussong said of the two goalkeepers. That is important to her especially because they are inexperienced at the position.
Hussong added, “We always say in practice ‘You have to be ready to have your number called,’ And if your number’s called to go onto the field, you got to be prepared mentally and physically to go out there and do the best job you can.”
Rider’s next game against Bryant was postponed because of COVID-19 protocols, per a news release from Bryant on March 22. Hussong said the game will be made up on April 12.
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