By Dylan Manfre
It is easy to see why Rider is in the Northeast Conference (NEC) championship game again. It has one of the best offenses in the league and the Offensive Player of the Year and Player of the Year. Getting past LIU and star goalkeeper Rachel Vellis, well, that posed a greater challenge.
Junior midfielder Tess van Ommeren was nearly out for the game after she went down with an ankle injury in the second quarter. Two goals and five shots later, van Ommeren was named the 2020-2021 NEC Championship MVP leading the Broncs to their first title since 2012, after shutting out LIU 5-0 on April 22.
Head Coach Lori Hussong said van Ommeren tweaked her ankle and that sometimes the pain subsides quickly. It was van Ommeren’s decision to stay in the game, and Hussong was glad she did because “she’s got one of the hardest shots on the team.”
Her first goal came off a corner inbound from junior midfielder Julia Divorra. Typically, it is van Ommeren who sends the ball in on corners, but Hussong made the switch for the first time this season — and it paid off. van Ommeren received the pass and hit the perfect shot into the goal.
She took a quick peek up at Vellis to get her positioning, looked down at the ball, and BAM. It hit the sweet spot of the stick.
“You could feel when a shot feels good when you hit it,” van Ommeren said. “It felt like that when it went in.”
The decision to put van Ommeren in as a striker manifested in the days leading up to the championship game, and Hussong ran with the 2021 All-NEC First Team selection in that position during practices — she thrived in the adjusted role.
“Now that we have placed her in as a central shooter, she did a really nice job of getting the ball to the goal,” said Hussong, who was named NEC Coach of the Year on April 21. “We just wanted to change it up and give a different look.”
Divorra, who led the NEC with 15 points heading into the championship game, had two goals of her own. Her sidekick, junior forward Carly Brosious, finished her second-career championship game with one goal on four shot attempts.
Rider’s goalkeeper, sophomore Kaitlyn Tomas has quietly shown herself on the stat sheet this season. She only has 10 saves on the year, mostly because the Divorra-led offense has complemented the defense so well. With the Broncs up 2-0, Tomas came up with the biggest save of the season.
Tomas dove for the ball and made her one save of the game off a low shot from LIU’s Sammy Bell.
“They score that goal and the momentum shifts and goes in a different direction. It was an incredible save,” Hussong said. “They don’t give [Tomas] enough credit because she doesn’t really see the shots every day during the game. She is a phenomenal goalkeeper in her own right.”
From one goalkeeper to another, some former Broncs were in attendance watching their former team win a championship. Lena Vandam, who now is the netminder at Towson University, played for Rider in 2019 and started in the NEC title game when Rider lost to Fairfield in overtime. She was elated to see her former team accomplish what she did not in 2019.
“They did everything I wanted to do and I wanted to achieve with them and now they did it,” Vandam said. “I’m living through them. I sent them all the positive vibes I had. Seeing them win here is just the best thing.”
Rider will face no. 7 UConn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on April 30 at 3 p.m.
Follow Dylan Manfre on Twitter for the latest on the Rider field hockey team.