Rider comes up short defending MAAC title

By Luke Lombardi

Every championship team dreams of going back-to-back. Unfortunately Rider fell right at the finish line to Fairfield in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) finals. 

Coming into the tournament, Rider had a lot of momentum. They entered the tournament with a five-match winning streak, including two reverse sweeps to end the regular season. The Broncs just finished the most successful regular season they ever had since joining the MAAC with a conference record of 14-4 and the second seed.

Rider started the tournament against the seven-seed Iona. The match started sloppily for both sides, splitting the first two sets. Once the third set started, the Broncs hit their groove. They took the last two sets with each set’s final score being 25-19. Junior opposite Morgan Romano led the team with 26 kills while senior setter Anilee Sher had 52 assists.

Their semifinal match wound up being against six-seeded Quinnipiac. The match was close, containing the most exciting set of the weekend for Rider. The second set ended with a final score of 27-25 with Rider failing to lead until 25-24. The Broncs took the last set 25-20 and clinched a spot in the championship. Yet again, Romano led the team in kills with 26, and Sher led the team in assists with 42.

“You had two good offensive teams. We have a pretty good offense and so does Quinnipiac. We were both battling, and obviously, we got the better of it. I think we hit around .300 for the match. They were around .200, so our offense performed just a little bit better,” Head Coach Jeff Rotondo said.

The semifinal match became important to Sher for another reason. During the match, Sher set the record for assists in a single season from a Rider player with her 1,177th assist. This enabled her to achieve the record of holding the single-game, single-season and career assist records for the Broncs all at once.

“It’s surreal in a sense. I didn’t really focus on it the entire season. I didn’t know that there were old records to break,” Sher said. “I didn’t keep up with a lot of it, so it kind of just shows that when you’re involved in a season and you’re putting a lot into it, you’re working hard for it, things kind of just happen and everyone starts playing a lot better and you’re focused on other things than just your individual statistics and things just fall into place.”

The Broncs had a chance to repeat as champions as they head into the MAAC tournament finals when they faced top-seeded Fairfield. The last time Rider matched up against Fairfield during the regular season, they had a seven-match winning streak with the last win streak being against Quinnipiac. 

Going into the championship, the circumstances were the same. Unfortunately for Rider, the result was as well with Fairfield taking the match three sets to none.

The Broncs started the match slowly and dug themselves a hole they couldn’t climb out of. The first set went in Fairfield’s favor with a score of 25-11. The second set went slightly better for Rider, but they still lost 25-18. The third set was when the Broncs started playing like a championship-caliber team. In the case of this match, it was too little too late as Fairfield took the sweep with a 25-21 third set victory.

In the end, while the Broncs did not win the conference, they did make back-to-back championship match appearances. 

“I think it’s awesome getting to the finals two years in a row. It’s obviously program history because we’d never been to the finals before and then winning last year was the first time in program history,” Romano said. “Just going again [and] having a feeling knowing that we’re capable of doing it is something to look forward to next year, too.”

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