Promising season falls flat at MAAC tournament
By Thomas Regan
Coming off a regular season that saw the program win the most games since 1994, the volleyball team appeared primed for a successful postseason as it headed to Lake Buena Vista, Fla., for a MAAC-playoff matchup against Fairfield on Nov. 20.
However, the fifth-seeded Broncs (17-17, 10-8 MAAC) suffered a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the fourth-seeded Stags before being eliminated by seventh-seeded Canisius 3-1 on Nov. 21.
Fairfield (19-12, 13-5 MAAC) swept Rider with scores of 25-23, 25-14 and 25-22. Despite jumping out to a 9-4 lead early in the first set, the Broncs were unable to put the Stags away, allowing eight unanswered scores and falling behind 12-9.
Though it was behind, Rider did not let up and eventually tied the score at 16, courtesy of a kill by sophomore middle hitter Kaitlyn Griffin. The Broncs briefly took the lead, 17-16, with an attack error forced by Griffin. But after the Stags took the lead again, Rider was unable to do more than tie for the remainder of the set, losing 25-23.
In the next set, the Stags scored several points early and put the Broncs in an 8-3 hole. After closing the gap to three, Rider allowed Fairfield to push in front 11-5 and was unable to recover, eventually losing the set 25-14.
Similar to the first, the final set had Rider out in front, but again saw the team struggle to put Fairfield away, and a shift in momentum Fairfield ahead 21-16. Down 24-18, the Broncs attempted to mount a comeback, scoring 4 unanswered points to pull within 2. However, a Stag kill ended the contest and thwarted their valiant effort.
Sophomore outside hitter Ryan Ackermann described Fairfield’s ability to capitalize on Rider’s mistakes, ultimately leading to the sweep.
“I think there were certain moments when we looked great and then there were other moments when we didn’t,” Ackermann said. “Those moments where we weren’t playing our best, Fairfield was able to take advantage of that and we couldn’t reciprocate. We weren’t consistent enough through the match.”
The double-elimination tournament then pitted Rider against the seventh-seed, Canisius (12-20, 8-10 MAAC), on Nov. 22. The opening set was the most competitive of the match, as there were 11 lead changes, four more than the other three sets combined.
However, the Broncs lost that battle and fell behind 1-0 in the match. After jumping out to an 8-3 lead, the Broncs were able to win the second set 26-24.
The success didn’t last long, as Rider struggled in the final two sets. The Broncs lost both by scores of 25-17 and 25-20 and were eliminated from the MAAC playoffs.
Ackermann believes the first-round defeat left the team disappointed, which resulted in a lack of energy in the elimination game.
“Canisius played a little bit harder than us, which was enough to win in the end,” Ackermann said. “We were coming back after a bad loss from the day before and I think it carried over emotionally and physically the next day.”
Despite the abrupt end to the season, senior outside hitter Jaclyn Webber is confident the team will continue to improve, even after her graduation.
“I think the culture of this team has changed and as long as hard work continues, the execution is going to find its way,” Webber said. “Experience from talented girls like we have is going to make all the difference.”