By Thomas Albano
The NEC championship became almost an annual occurrence for the Broncs field hockey squad, but this season Rider will attempt to become the first-ever MAAC champions. In the preseason poll among the league’s coaches, Rider has been picked to win the inaugural MAAC field hockey championship.
Rider field hockey is changing conferences after spending more than a decade in the NEC. In April, the MAAC added field hockey as a sport starting with the fall 2013 season. In addition to Rider, three other full MAAC members — Monmouth, Quinnipiac, and Siena — and three MAAC associate members — Bryant, Robert Morris and Sacred Heart — will join the MAAC for the field hockey season. This move also comes as a result of the NEC ending its sponsorship of the sport.
The team sees this as a great opportunity to make a name for itself right away in the inaugural season.
“The conference is pretty much the same, minus Saint Francis,” Hussong said. “We are very happy that field hockey is finally being sponsored by the MAAC and look forward to putting ourselves in the position of making the MAAC playoffs.”
In addition, senior forward Sandra Penas was named the MAAC Preseason Player of the Year. Along with senior midfielder Alicia Govannicci, Penas was also named Preseason All-MAAC.
Rider has also been selected to host the MAAC field hockey championship on Nov. 8 and 9. The regular season’s top four teams will meet in hopes of becoming the MAAC field hockey champion, as well as the chance to enter the NCAA play-in game to qualifying for the national tournament.
The Broncs started their season out on the right foot on Aug. 30 with a 3-2 victory at Colgate. Trailing 1-0 in the second half, Rider was able to score three goals, two from freshman forward Nicole Hareau and one from freshman forward Kalyn O’Brien.
“We all came out in the second half and worked together and hustled to get the job done,” Penas said. “We never gave up and the team’s effort in the second half was outstanding.”
With only one day of rest in between, the Broncs traveled to College Park, Md., to face Georgetown. Rider had a scoring surge in the first half taking a commanding 4-0 lead. Though they were unable to score the rest of the way the Broncs came out on top 4-1. Field hockey continues play today against Villanova, whom the Broncs have defeated in their last three meetings.
Of course, the team knows the road to the top is never easy.
“We have put together a really competitive non-conference schedule in order to prepare us for conference play,” Head Coach Lori Hussong said. “Our biggest challenge will be facing Princeton, the defending national champions, on Nov. 3. It is a huge mountain to climb and will only prepare us for conference play.”
Since Hussong’s arrival to the Broncs in the 2000 season, 10 Rider field hockey teams have won either an NEC championship, an NEC regular season championship, or both, and all 13 teams under Hussong have reached the conference championship game. Since then, Rider has lost the title game only twice.
The possible achievements of the team this year are thanks not only to Hussong’s prior coaching success, but also to the team’s talent-filled roster. This season, Penas and Govannicci will be joined by several returning players, as well as a recruiting class of nine freshmen.
“We will definitely work to improve each time out as we will have a lot of newcomers mixed with a strong group of returning players,” Hussong said. “If we continue to work together, and everyone buys into our team philosophy of giving your best effort, then we can accomplish our goals.”
Last season, Rider finished 15-6, (6-1 NEC) advancing to the NEC conference championship. The Broncs first defeated Quinnipiac 4-1 to advance to the championship game, and then defeated Monmouth 3-2 to win the championship. However, Rider lost the NCAA play-in game to Massachusetts in overtime, 2-1. That marked the third year in a row where the team won the NEC championship, but failed to win the NCAA play-in game.
While one may think that the mission for this season would be to make it to the NCAA play-in game and finally win, Hussong is not looking that far ahead; rather, she is taking it one step at a time.
“Our goals are very simple,” she said. “Best effort every day in whatever we do, win the MAAC regular season, and qualify for the playoffs, and hopefully become the first MAAC field hockey champions.”