By Cynthia Reyes
The Broncs’ season came to an end after a difficult battle against Princeton during the NCAA play-in game on Tuesday. The Broncs lost in a double overtime nailbiter by a score of 1-0.
Rider had the task of facing off against the champions of the Ivy League, a team that competed against a schedule full of national powers.
The Broncs had to prepare quickly, but did have one benefit that they felt helped them adjust.
“We only had a short time to prepare for Princeton,” Head Coach Lori Hussong said. “One thing that helped was being able to practice on their surface the day before we played. It always takes awhile to transition from playing on our field turf to astro turf as the game is played at a much faster pace, so it was good for our team to have the opportunity to get a few touches on the ball.”
The Broncs fell when P rinceton’s freshman Sydney Kirby scored in double overtime off a penalty corner.
“Everyone left it all out on the field,” Hussong said. “Unfortunately, we lost in double overtime but we were so proud of our team’s effort. We felt like we gained some overall respect in taking Princeton to double OT. It was a heartbreaking loss for us, but after having some time to recover we realize that we have a lot to be proud of.”
Rider finished with a program-best 19-2 overall record and tallied its second consecutive NEC Championship.
The loss also ended the Broncs’ 15-game winning streak. During the game, the Tigers outshot the Broncs 17-9 and held a 7-4 penalty corner advantage over Rider, making Rider go on the defensive more often than not.
Lotito put on a masterful performance, finishing with eight saves. Senior Virginia Egusquiza, the three-time NEC Player of the Year, had five shots, including three on goal. Egusquiza graduates in May as Rider’s all-time leading scorer and holds the Rider single season and career assist records.
She is also set to play in the senior all-star game at the NCAA Field Hockey Final Four at the University of Louisville in two weeks.
For the Broncs, the journey to get to that point was not an easy one.
The Broncs first defeated fourth-seeded St. Francis (Pa.) last Friday in a 2-0 shutout during the first round of the NEC playoffs. With the win, Rider advanced to the NEC championship for the 10th time since Hussong, the 2011 NEC Coach of the Year, took the reins 12 seasons ago.
The next day, Rider defeated Monmouth 2-1 to clinch the NEC Title at Ben Cohen field. It was the fifth NEC Championship that Rider has won, along with its six NEC regular season titles in the past 12 years.
“We needed to neutralize Monmouth’s two top scorers by limiting the number of touches they had on the ball and to defend against their use of the aerial attacks more efficiently than we did the first time we played,” Hussong said. “We think our team executed our game plan beautifully.”
The first half of the game remained a scoreless tie until 23 minutes in, when freshman Eefje Kok scored her 10th goal of the season, assisted by junior Jackie Adams.
Monmouth, the second seed in the tournament, played tough for the rest of the first half and well into the second half until Rider’s offense got the best of them again. The second goal for Rider was scored by junior Marlaine Schneider with just 14 minutes left in the second half. Schneider entered the game ranked fourth in the nation in points per game and 11th on Rider’s all-time scoring list.
Monmouth managed to pull within one with just under two minutes remaining in the game, but senior goalie Rebecca Lotito held Monmouth’s strong offense at bay for the victory.
“Tito is the inspirational leader on the field,” Hussong said to Rider Sports Information.
Lotito, one of the captains of the team, commented on how proud she was of her teammates.
“Our NEC wins this weekend were phenomenal,” she said. “We knew how important each game was, and we were very careful not to overlook any opponent. Both games were tough, but we came out on top.”
Hussong understands replacing her core players will be difficult next season.
“We will have some big shoes to fill when we lose Virginia,” Hussong said. “No one has had the type of impact on their program that she has had. She is a phenomenal player but most importantly is a great representative, not just for our field hockey program but for Rider. She will be very hard to replace.”
The Rider field hockey team closed out their dream season with a record of 92 goals and 19 wins. The mark of excellence set a new record in the field hockey program since the 2004 season when the team went 18-3.