By Carlos Toro
After the women’s soccer team won the MAAC for the first time in 2014, the thought of a second conference title is looking more and more promising after an undefeated start in conference play this season.
With a week to rest after picking up the win against Quinnipiac on Sept. 17, the Broncs’ (5-2-2, 2-0 MAAC) offense kept rolling with a 3-0 win against Canisius on Sept. 24.
Head Coach Drayson Hounsome said that the long rest was good for his team, as the Broncs had plenty of time to prepare for this game.
“The great thing we had about this week is that we had a whole week to prepare,” Hounsome said. “We had the most training sessions to prepare in this whole season. Everybody was raring to go and we didn’t have too much to say to them before the game because we prepared all week for it.”
Junior midfielder Ellie Smith had an impressive game for the Broncs, scoring the game’s second and third goals to secure the win, which gave the Broncs the first 2-0 start in conference play in 13 years. Rider is also undefeated in its last five matches, winning three of those games and tying two.
The Broncs got on board in the 33rd minute of the game when senior back Heather Maierle scored her second goal in as many games on a penalty kick.
After Rider took a 1-0 lead in its previous game, Quinnipiac managed to tie the game before Rider eventually won by a score of 2-1. Smith took it upon herself to double the Broncs’ lead with a goal. only two minutes into the second half. Senior forward Caroline Healy got the assist when she made a forward pass to Smith and she capitalized.
Less than five minutes later, Smith scored again and increased the lead to three goals thanks to assists from Healy and redshirt junior forward Michelle Iacono. It was Smith’s sixth goal of the season, which is already a collegiate career-high for goals in a season for Smith.
As much as the Broncs’ offense did well against the Golden Griffins (3-5, 1-1 MAAC), Rider’s defense also played a key role in the victory. Rider only allowed one shot from Canisius in the second half of the win. The defense also allowed only four shots in the first half as senior goalkeeper Bethany-May Howard got another shutout, her third in the season.
While it is too early to determine who will win the MAAC this year, Smith thinks that the 2-0 start is indicative that the team is “on the way to doing some very good things this year.”
Rider senior midfielder Hollie Kelsh said that the team’s experience from that MAAC-winning 2014 season and the team chemistry is a big reason for the strong start.
“We came in with a lot of upperclassmen so we have experience and experience of winning a MAAC championship, and the players who have come in settled quickly and we have jelled as a team,” Kelsh said.
The Broncs also had the added luxury of fielding a healthy team this season. After the win against Quinnipiac, Hounsome said that the team is fit and healthy. That is something that he never had, even in the 2014 season, when the team played in the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.
The Broncs are just one of three teams in the MAAC to still have an undefeated conference record, along with Siena and Monmouth, but only Rider has five overall wins in the season thus far. No other team in the conference has won five games.
“We have to recover from [the Canisius win] and then get ready to get three points [on Sept. 28,]” Hounsome said.
To start the season, Rider hosted then No. 10 Rutgers and had to deal with a tough non-conference schedule that included facing off against teams such as Bucknell and Saint Joseph’s.
The long rest for the Broncs also is needed, considering the fact that the team played in four straight overtime games before conference play began. The last three games of that stretch ended in double overtime.
The Broncs will now have their first taste of MAAC play on the road this season, going to Jersey City to face off against Saint Peter’s on Sept. 8, and then making a trip to Niagara for a game on Oct. 1.
Kelsh said that the team believes it has what it takes to win a second conference title in three years. So far, it’s hard to argue that the Broncs are not at least a contender this year. Kelsh said that the team needs to stay focused and not let success get into its head.
“I think we believe we are more than capable of winning the conference this season,” Kelsh said. “We have a very talented team and we know it’s important not to get carried away too much and take one game at a time. We are a strong team and we are in good shape.”