By Cynthia Reyes
The field hockey team is off to a hot start this season and it looks to continue its solid play as it enters a busy weekend. The Broncs begin a stretch of six consecutive away games Saturday as they visit Bucknell (2-4) and then finish the weekend at Lock Haven (4-5) before battling Villanova (4-4, 0-1 Big East) on Wednesday.
Rider has been highly competitive as the Broncs battle to retain their NEC Title. Led by seniors Virginia Egusquiza, the two-time NEC Player of the Year, Natasha Tukeva, Rebecca Lotito and Megan Pisani, the team is on pace to have one of its best seasons yet. Lotito has led the defense as lockdown goalkeeper, and Pisani heads the offense while Egusquiza and Tukeva have played great midfield.
Rider is already 5-1, with its lone loss coming from Hofstra by a score of 5-2. The Broncs have scored a whopping 27 goals this season, which head coach Lori Hussong says is partly due to the stellar play from freshmen midfielders Eefje Kok and Stacey DiLeo.
“They are not only outstanding field hockey players, but most importantly, outstanding people,” Hussong said.
For the upcoming games, the main concern for Rider will be the defensive line. Lotito understands that the defense can improve, and she believes it will.
“We have had some issues getting our defense together, but as the season unfolds, we are becoming stronger and stronger,” she said.
According to Hussong, Lotito is doing a great job of helping the back line into shape and the improvement has been tremendous.
Rider’s last game ended in a 3-0 shutout win against Radford. Pisani, Penas and Kok all scored during the first half to give Rider the early lead, and that was all the Broncs needed. Lotito and the defensive line kept the Highlanders scoreless by blocking all four shots on goal, earning her third shutout of the season and the 10th of her career.
As for the opponents, Rider squares off with Bucknell, an up-and-coming team in the field hockey world. Rider will have to face off against a new threat in freshman Ellie Riegel, the Patriot League’s Rookie of the Week for her play from Sept. 12-18, as well as sophomore Vickie Resh. Senior Marci Richard, a forward known for her excellent ball control, is also a player to be reckoned with. Despite their current season record of 2-4, the Bison are fast on the field, so the Broncs will have to match their quickness. Rider faces Bucknell at 1 p.m.
Lock Haven, a former NEC rival of the Broncs, could prove a challenge for Rider as well, regardless of its loss to Bucknell last Saturday. Senior Kristi Shepps, one of the star players, was the leading scorer with 20 goals in the 2010 season. Lock Haven has claimed a combined nine NEC tournament and regular season titles since 2004, as well as being runners-up in its first season in the A-10. However, it has already lost five of nine games this season, so the Broncs should like their chances. Rider faces Lock Haven on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Villanova has always been a tough team. The Wildcats have some dynamic new players, including freshman Jessica Swoboda, who was named to the Big East Honor Roll for the second week in a row. With a 7-10 record last season, Villanova is looking to improve against Rider, especially with their current record of 3-7. With other star players like senior Jordan Lynne and junior Moriah Allen, Villanova should be a tough. Rider faces Villanova on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
The Broncs and Hussong are excited for their upcoming matchups.
“It will be great competition next weekend and we’re looking forward to it,” Hussong told Rider Sports Information. “We haven’t played Lock Haven since they left the NEC and we’re looking forward to playing them again. Bucknell will test us, but I feel we will be prepared.”
Junior Marlaine Schneider believes this span will be one step to the team’s ultimate goal.
“Our goal for this year is to be the regular season champs, conference champs and win and go through the [NCAA] play-in game,” Schneider said.