By Thomas Albano
Following a 1-0 loss to Monmouth on Oct. 29, the women’s soccer team won its first-round MAAC tournament game by defeating Siena 2-1 on Nov. 1.
The Broncs (11-5-2, 5-3-2 MAAC) now advance to the MAAC semifinals for the second consecutive year as a result of their first round victory over Siena (7-7-6, 4-2-4 MAAC).
Head Coach Drayson Hounsome says the team now finds itself in a familiar position.
“That’s where our season ended last year,” Hounsome said. “So it’s a chance for the crew to make amends and get the win we did not get 12 months ago.”
Rider’s fourth-seed position was finalized on Oct. 29, when the third seed, Niagara, defeated Marist 4-0, and then the Broncs lost 1-0 to Monmouth (14-4, 9-1 MAAC).
Every player on Rider’s active roster played in the game. However, Monmouth, the top seed in the MAAC tournament, dominated the offensive statistics. The Hawks had four more corner kicks than the Broncs, and outshot them 26-4.
The lone score of the game came in the 19th minute when Monmouth’s sophomore forward Erica Murphy got an unassisted goal.
One noticeable statistic in favor of Rider, however, came from sophomore goalkeeper Bethany-May Howard. She had 11 saves in over 77 minutes of play before being replaced by freshman Briyanna Femia.
The Broncs’ seeding earned them a showdown with Siena in a rematch from Oct. 25, when the two finished with a 0-0 tie in Loudonville, N.Y. This is the first season to feature Rider in a scoreless tie since 2011 when that occurred twice, against Fairleigh Dickinson, and Siena.
By holding the higher seed, the Broncs earned their first postseason home game since 2003.
The first half of this game saw very little offensive work on either side. The Saints had one shot in the half, the Broncs had two, the only corner kick of the half came from Siena, and neither goalkeeper had a save.
Despite the little action in the half, freshman midfielder Ellie Smith headed a ball from freshman forward Alanna McDougall into the back of the net to give Rider a 1-0 lead.
“I played [the ball] free to Alanna on the right wing,” Smith said. “She crossed it in and I just went for it with my head and it went into the top left corner.”
The second half saw more of an offensive battle, as Siena outshot Rider 8-6. Howard had four saves in this half, while the Saints’ senior goalkeeper, Taylor Booth, had two.
Just as the Broncs thought the game was won, Siena tied it with a goal in the 87th minute, delivering a blow to Smith and the rest of the team.
“It was heartbreaking,” Smith said. “We all felt that with three minutes to go, we thought it was going to go into overtime.”
But Smith and her team would not be denied their moment. With 86 seconds left in the game, Smith, assisted by sophomore midfielder Victoria Maley, got through the Siena defense and scored the game-winning goal.
The first-round win gives Rider a trip to the site of the MAAC tournament, West Long Branch, N.J., home to Monmouth. The Broncs will meet the Hawks in a rematch on Nov. 7 in a MAAC semifinal battle. The other semifinal will feature Niagara, which defeated Canisius, the sixth seed, taking on the second seed, Fairfield. The winners of those two games will meet on Nov. 9 in the MAAC Championship game.
Smith looks forward to another contest with Monmouth, and Rider plans to win this time to move into the MAAC Championship battle.
“If we play like we played tonight, we can beat Monmouth,” Smith said.