By Dylan Manfre
At the beginning of the season sophomore midfielder Tess van Ommeren missed the opener with a hamstring injury.
van Ommeren, who was named to the the All-Northeast Conference (NEC) First Team on Nov. 7, was one of the catalysts for Rider on Nov. 8 in its 3-0 victory over No. 3 Long Island University (LIU) in the NEC semifinal round.
It took 35 seconds for van Ommeren to put a ball passed LIU goalkeeper Rachel Vellis, who’s 5-foot-10 frame allows her to sprawl the length of the cage.
“I think we said to ourselves that it was very important to do good in the first few minutes,” said van Ommeren. “We set goals for ourselves and everyone just gave their energy.”
Rider kept the tempo up on both ends of the field and only allowed two shots through the first 30 minutes from LIU’s Al-NEC First Team honoree Sammy Bell and forward Felicia King. King’s shot was also LIU’s only shot on goal in the first half.
“We came out on fire which is a good thing for us,” Head Coach Lori Hussong said. “We talked about the fact that we needed to get out to a good start and score early to keep the game under control. From that point on, we had the better end. LIU is a team that as the game goes on, they get better and today was a very good example. From when we scored our third goal did we ever feel comfortable that we were going to win.”
LIU’s offense has been minimal as of late, being that the Sharks have been shutout in their last two regular-season contests.
Midfielder Tess Coorens, who assisted the van Ommeren goal, narrowly converted a penalty stroke putting Rider up 2-0.
Minutes later, in the third quarter, junior goalkeeper Lena Vandam rose to the occasion and prevented LIU from converting in what Hussong says was Vandam’s biggest save of the season. Had LIU scored, she said the game could have gone totally different.
“Going up 2-0 in a game like field hockey, which is very similar to soccer, it’s a sport where anything can happen. If the other team scores the momentum is in their favor,” Hussong said. “If Lena doesn’t stop [that stroke], the game goes to 2-1 and LIU still thinks they have life and are more motivated to tie the game.”
Vandam knew the implications of the moment too.
“I knew it was an important moment because it could’ve given them a boost,” Vandam said. “I just tried to approach the stroke as confidently as I can in that moment.”
A common theme that Head Coach Lori Hussong has stressed has been corner execution. The Broncs are the No. 4 ranked team in the nation in that category. Junior defender Kaitlyn Flemming punched Rider’s ticket to the NEC championship game after she converted a penalty corner midway through the fourth period off of a penalty corner.
“We changed up the corner play a little bit and put a couple new plays in for the tournament,” Hussong said. “Our corner execution was actually pretty good today.”
Traditionally, van Ommeren will be the player who sets up the corner plays from the baseline either on the left or right side of the cage. She felt that the corner execution greatly improved over the past week.
“Really good,” van Ommeren said on the corner exacution. “We improved a lot on it in practice. We scored two [goals] off of corners so we should be really proud of that.”
Rider advanced to its 12th NEC championship game in hopes of completing a four-peat — albeit a seven-year gap from 2012-to-2019 when the NEC did not have field hockey — against No. 1 Fairfield on Nov. 10 at the neutral site of Wagner College.
The last time the two teams met was back on Oct. 18 when Rider suffered a 2-1 overtime loss. That game gave Fairfield sole possession of first place in the NEC and snapped the Broncs’ undefeated record in conference play.
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