By Jordan Hall
Past success leads to high expectations, which can often result in added pressure. But for the Rider field hockey team, lofty goals have made them perform at an even more elite level.
With a 13-7 record last season, an appearance in the Northeast Conference (NEC) Championship game and 14 returning letterwinners, the sights were set high for the ’09 Broncs and they haven’t disappointed.
Two-time NEC Coach of the Year, Lori Hussong, and the rest of the field hockey program have produced an impressive track record the last decade. This season, they boast a résumé unlike any from years past.
This skilled and experienced squad has exceeded all predictions by jump-starting the season with a 7-0 record, making them one of seven teams in the country still undefeated. The blistering start has landed Rider a national ranking of 23 by Fieldhockeycorner.com in their Average Computer Rating (ACR).
The Broncs are currently sporting an all-time high 18th best Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) in the nation, but most remarkably, on Sept. 3, Rider was ranked first overall in the ACR rankings, proving to be one of the premier teams in all of Division I field hockey. The ACR rankings are based on goal differential and wins and loses, where RPI deals with the team’s record, its opponent’s record, and its opponent’s-opponent’s record.
The Broncs have a unique blend of talented and unselfish players who have made winning into a habit. This rare group just might be the greatest team in its program’s history, and easily the most gifted.
“There are many similarities between this year’s team and the 2004 team that went 18-3,” Hussong said.
“Talent and skill-wise this is by far the best that we have put together. The skill, speed and athleticism on the team is outstanding, but the beauty of this team is that they are team-oriented players who truly feel happy for each other’s successes.”
Rider opened the campaign with force, defeating Lehigh handily 8-2. Shortly following that, the Broncs beat an impressive Hofstra team 1-0, and most recently, they took down Radford on Sunday in a double overtime thriller, 1-0. Rider has completely dismantled its opponents offensively and defensively, outscoring the opposition 26-4. The Broncs, dating back to last season, have won 17 of their last 19 contests and have outscored the competition 54-12. Amazingly enough, Rider has yet to have its home opener, which is set for Friday, at 4 p.m. against West Chester.
The Broncs are not only ranked nationally, but also statistically. The unbeaten bunch is second in the country in save percentage, fourth in goals against average, sixth in scoring margin and 12th in scoring average and goals per game.
Rider also possesses the top offensive threats in the NEC in sophomore duo Megan Pisani and Virginia Egusquiza. Pisani, an athletic forward, leads the conference in points (22), goals (10) and game-winning goals (4) while the versatile Egusquiza is first in assists (4), second in points (14) and third in goals (5). To cap things off, senior goalkeeper Lyndsie Johnson ranks first in the league in shutouts (4), goals against average (0.55) and save percentage (.862). Across the board, Rider owns an exceptionally deep and balanced team.
Because of this, the Broncs have received an immense amount of national attention, but it doesn’t faze them; they remain focused.
“We take every game one game at a time and most importantly, never take any team lightly,” said Pisani.
Hussong keeps everything in perspective.
“Field hockey is a game where the tables can turn very quickly, and we know that we have to stay focused at all times to be successful,” she said.
Rider understands that the season is still young and there is plenty of work left to do in order to accomplish its goals.
“Every conference game is going to be a dog fight,” said Hussong. “Our goals each year have always been to win the regular season NEC title as well as the tournament title and get to the NCAA play-in game.”
With their goals set in stone, the Broncs will continue to embark on school history and hopefully finish off what could truly be a memorable ride.