Rider drops final matches ahead of MAAC Tournament

By Andrew Smolar

In its final outings of conference play, Rider volleyball suffered two more losses, falling to Fairfield 3-1 on Nov. 12 and Quinnipiac on Nov. 13.

Rider now looks toward the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Tournament on Nov. 16, taking on No. 10 Manhattan in the first round.

‘Pleased, but not satisfied’

Volleyball kicked off their final weekend of the regular season with a competitive defeat at the hands of Fairfield on Nov. 12. Head Coach Jeff Rotondo was happy to see his team remain competitive against the defending MAAC Champions, but knows there is still work to be done. “We are pleased, but not satisfied,” Rotondo said. “Lots of good to take away from this match and lots to learn from as well.”

The first set was tightly contested throughout. The largest lead at any point during the set for either team was a four point cushion that the Stags held at a 24-20 score. Neither team even had a lead of more than two at any point, until a 3-0 run by Fairfield gave them a three point lead at 19-16. The longest run by either team was a 4-0 surge by the Stags early on when they turned a 7-5 deficit into a 9-7 lead. The whole set had 13 ties and seven lead changes. Despite a late 3-0 rally by Rider that brought the set within one at 24-23, Fairfield took the first set 25-23.

The second set was a great start for the Broncs that they never relinquished. They started the set with three consecutive points and five out of the first six. Another 3-0 run shortly after gave Rider their largest lead of the set of six at a 9-3 score. The Stags would not go away quietly as they responded with five unanswered points of their own to cut the lead to one at 9-8. The Broncs opened the lead back up to six on a 10-5 run that essentially put the set out of reach. Fairfield would get within two at 21-19 but it was too little too late, when Rider would score four of the set’s final five points to win 25-20.

Rotondo was happy with the improved offensive and defensive play from set one. “Our offense really clicked that 2nd set, and we sided out very well,” Rotondo said. “Defensively we just seemed to make more plays as well, so it dropped Fairfield’s sideout game enough for it to be a difference.”

The third set like the first was incredibly close for the entire set. Neither team held a lead of more than two until a 4-0 run by the Stags gave them their largest lead of the set at 18-14. The set had nine ties and five lead changes. The biggest run during the set was the aforementioned 4-0 surge by Fairfield, which was the difference in the set. The Stags would take the important third set 25-21.

The final set was again closely contested until a monster run by Fairfield gave them a lead the Broncs couldn’t overcome. For the set’s first twelve points, there was no lead bigger than two. After being locked in a 6-6 tie, the Stags would score eight of the next nine points to turn what was a closely contested set into a runaway victory. The set was never any closer and ended up being a dominant 25-14 victory for Fairfield.

Despite the game being close in a lot of areas, one big difference was in the error department. Rider committed nearly twice as many errors (29) as the Stags (15). In a game with a lot of close sets, that made a big difference. “That is what makes Fairfield good, they do not make a ton of mistakes and just wait you out,” Rotondo said. “This is an area we need to improve in.”

‘Chemistry has been off’

Volleyball closed out their regular season schedule with a loss to Quinnipiac on Nov. 13. Rider was swept three sets to none with the closest set of the day being a five-point margin.

Rotondo knows his team needs to work on things before the tournament, specifically team chemistry. “Team chemistry has been off, so we need to dive into that a lot,” Rotondo said. “It is hard to build that chemistry with all the lineup differences we have had due to injury and illness. However, there is definitely something off when we get into tense moments and get pressure from other teams.”

The first set was the closest of the afternoon. Despite never holding a lead, the Broncs kept the set within three points until the end. A three point surge by the Bobcats gave Quinnipiac the aforementioned three point edge early on at 6-3. After the Broncs rallied to tie the set at eight, the Bobcats had a 4-1 run that gave them the lead back. A 5-2 run by Rider tied the score once again at 14. Quinnipiac would answer back with a 8-3 run that opened up the largest lead of the set at 22-17 as they would eventually win the set 25-20.

Rotondo was not pleased with his team’s inability to hold a lead during the game. “We played a very spirited match vs Fairfield, the top team in our conference, only to play a very flat game vs Quinnipiac,” Rotondo said. “Hanging around should never be a goal, playing with the right energy and focus would keep us from having to hang around.”

The second set was a slow start that the Broncs never recovered from. The Bobcats would score the set’s first five points and never looked back. Despite Rider rallying with a 5-2 run to bring the set within two, they never got any closer. Qunnipiac would go on three separate 3-0 runs as well as two other 2-0 surges. They led by as many as nine and won the set 25-16.

The final set started well for the Broncs until a monster run by the Bobcats dug a hole too deep for Rider to climb out of. After scoring the set’s first three points and holding a 5-4 edge, everything fell apart for the Broncs. Quinnipiac would score nine unanswered points to turn a competitive set into a runaway victory. Rider would respond by scoring three straight points of their own but never got any closer. The Bobcats won the final set 25-17 to complete the sweep.

The lopsided score translated to the stat sheet. Qunnipiac held an edge in kills (44-26), aces (11-3), blocks (5-2), assists (41-22) and digs (38-29). They also committed fewer errors than the Broncs (9 of their own compared to 14 for Rider). 

Rotondo is optimistic about the fact that many of the problems are their own doing. “All of these issues are self-inflicted wounds and all of it is in our control to get corrected,” Rotondo said. “We will need to be more problem-solving focused down in Orlando rather than focusing on factors we can not control like a bad bounce, couple of bad plays, etc…”

The 9-19 Broncs will enter the MAAC Tournament as the No. 7 seed, pitting them against the lowly, 1-17 Manhattan Jaspers. The match begins at 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 16, and will be streamed on ESPN+.

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