By Josh Veltrie
The field hockey team won its second NEC regular season title in as many years last weekend, and a couple of the key contributors to this year’s impressive run are talented players from Spain. Junior Virginia Egusquiza and freshman Sandra Penas have helped Rider achieve an 11-game winning streak, leading the Broncs into the NEC Championship this weekend.
Egusquiza has done everything and more in her time here at Rider, earning the 2008 NEC Rookie and 2009 NEC Player of the Year honors. She has also helped Penas adjust during her first year at Rider, which can be tough enough without having their families on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
“Virginia has one of the best work ethics on the team,” said head coach Lori Hussong. “She works hard every day and has really helped Sandra when she has needed it, just like the leaders of the team helped Virginia adjust during her freshman year.”
Penas’ first-ever visit to the United States was to Rider and it was the only visit she made, although schools such as Boston College and Syracuse were recruiting her before she made her decision to attend Rider to play field hockey.
“When I came to visit Rider all of the girls [on the team] were so friendly,” Penas said. “I liked the campus a lot because it was small and I just loved it here.”
Egusquiza visited the United States only once in 2007 to go to a camp in Boston to help her learn English. After that, she visited the U.S. to see Syracuse and Rider to decide where she wanted to receive a college education and play field hockey. The junior admits there were some barriers off the field when she came to Rider.
“When I first came here I didn’t speak English too well and that was kind of hard for me,” Egusquiza said. “Having Sandra at Rider with me now really helps because we can speak in Spanish to each other and it makes us both more comfortable.”
On the field, Egusquiza has not encountered anything that resembles a barrier. She has been leading Rider since her freshman year. She now has 20 assists after last weekend, a Rider single-season record, while also compiling 10 goals. Penas finished the regular season with 13 goals and six assists.
According to Hussong, Penas and Egusquiza play extremely well together because they have contrasting styles of play.
“Sandra is more efficient as a scorer while Virginia is better at setting people up and putting them in position to score,” Hussong said.
Both players admit that the style of play in Europe is vastly different from how field hockey is played in the United States.
“Back home everything is laid back and we just play for fun. It isn’t taken as seriously as it is here,” Egusquiza said. “When I first started playing and practicing at Rider, the physicality of the game and how much everyone hustled during every play kind of surprised me and took a little while to get used to.”
In Spain, there is no opportunity to go to college on an athletic scholarship because the teams are club teams that have no relation to any of the schools. The opportunity to come to the U.S. to be able to play field hockey for a university and get an education out of it is an opportunity both women took. Rider has benefited from both of these women’s decisions.
“Our program would not be as successful as it is right now without Sandra and Virginia,” Hussong said.
Both women have helped elevate Rider’s program along with a lot of other key contributors on the field hockey team, such as junior goalkeeper Rebecca Lotito and senior Megan Pisani. Penas noticed her teammates’ work ethic right away and the mentality they had that every game is important.
“When we had that three-game losing streak early in the season, it was really hard,” Penas said. “That’s when I really noticed how competitive my teammates were and that made me want to be successful as well.”
Rider enters this weekend hoping for a different result than last year’s disappointing loss in the first round of the NEC Championship. Hussong knows that Penas and Egusquiza have to play well in order for them to grab that elusive title.
“It is really important for both of them to play well along with the rest of our players,” Hussong said. “Our entire team needs to step up their level of play now, but they know that if they keep on giving their best effort on the field that good things will happen.”