By Matt Burrill
For the past 13 years, Rider field hockey was a staple in what was the NEC postseason tournament, qualifying every season. Now, under the affiliation of the MAAC, the program extended the postseason streak to 14 years with Sunday’s 4-0 victory over Sacred Heart (4-11, 0-4 MAAC).
Rider (12-5, 4-1 MAAC) came into the game carrying momentum from a 2-1 victory over Quinnipiac (10-6, 3-1 MAAC) two days earlier. In a game where the Broncs trailed 1-0 for much of the contest, the team made a strong effort in the second half, scoring both of its goals.
“The game was very intense,” senior midfielder Alicia Govannicci said.
Rider’s first goal came with 11:49 remaining in the second half, when sophomore back Rachel Ippolite scored off a penalty corner from freshman midfielder Carlota Alsina and Govannicci.
With just about three minutes remaining, senior forward Sandra Penas sent in a ball that was redirected by freshman Carlie Spaeder into the back of the net.
Govannicci thought the Broncs keeping a step ahead of Quinnipiac was what ultimately led to a victory.
“We outworked and outhustled them and scored two great goals,” Govannicci said.
The game against Sacred Heart on Oct. 27 would not be anywhere near as tough.
Early in the game, however, things did not look so good for the Broncs, with two of the team’s top players, Penas and Alsina, going down with injuries.
“Today was a testament to our hard work,” Head Coach Lori Hussong said. “When Sandra and Carlota went down early in the game, we didn’t lose a step.”
Following an injury to her nose, Penas would return to the game wearing a protective facemask, but Alsina sat out the remainder of the contest.
The Broncs went on to win by a comfortable 4-0 margin, outshooting their opponents 33-6 in a lopsided victory. Offensive contributions came from junior back Dezarae Fillmyer and freshman forward Nicole Hareau, along with freshman forward Kalyn O’Brien, who scored twice in the game.
O’Brien, who currently ranks third on the team with 17 points, has made sure to capitalize on the opportunities she is given.
“I just keep working hard, hustling and trying my best to do whatever I can to help the team win,” O’Brien said.
In addition to clinching their spot in the MAAC conference playoffs, the Broncs also celebrated the careers and accomplishments of this year’s senior class. These four players — Penas, Govannicci, forward Kristine Dougherty and back Shari Grinceri — know what it means to be victorious and successful, winning three conference titles in their four seasons at Rider.
“It’s a bittersweet moment for our coaching staff,” Hussong said. “We’ve grown to love them over these past four years. I couldn’t ask for anything more of this group. They have been great role models and exceptional leaders for us.”
With three of Rider’s four goals coming from freshmen, the future seems to be in good hands.
The senior leadership will be missed, but many of the younger players have already learned from the veterans and will look to continue the winning ways of the field hockey program.
“The seniors taught me ‘Rider field hockey,’ which is never be satisfied, never quit, dig deep, give everything you have,” O’Brien said. “Then, find more to give, spill your guts and it may not be pretty, but it wins championships.”
This season, Rider’s first-year players have accounted for 60% of the team’s goals.
“The underclassmen have done what has been asked of them and have learned to play the Rider style,” Govannicci said.
The celebration of clinching their spot in the postseason will be short-lived for the Broncs, with two games still remaining on their schedule, including their final conference game in the regular season, against Monmouth (6-10, 3-1 MAAC) on Nov. 1.
Even with their playoff spot already secured, Penas and the rest of the team will be playing their hardest.
“Monmouth is going to be an extremely competitive game,” Penas said. “They are our biggest rivals. We have to come ready to play.”