By Dylan Manfre
After narrowly sneaking into the four-team conference playoff with an 8-11 overall, 3-3 MAAC record last season, the field hockey team aims for a stronger start in 2018. Despite losing two of its first three games, Rider picked up its 400th win in program history, thanks in part to some fresh faces on offense.
The Broncs welcomed nine freshmen to the program, seven of whom play offense. The incoming freshmen complement a young returning core, who put up strong numbers on both ends of the pitch last season.
“We have nine newcomers to the group and they’re loaded with talent,” said Head Coach Lori Hussong. “We’ve really enjoyed working with them so far. Each one brings something different to the table and they’re really going to make an immediate impact to our team.”
Rider outscored its opponents 19-9 in the second half last season. Hussong noted the attacking emphasis is partly how they geared their search for new players.
“We played really tough defense last year and our issue was actually scoring, so we went out and recruited the top offensive players we could possibly bring into this program,” Hussong said.
One freshman who can boost the Broncs’ offense is forward Brooke Gastin, who recorded a staggering 19 goals and 20 assists her senior season at Kingston High School in Ulster Park, New York.
Gastin credited her success to her unselfish mindset and her pass-first nature.
“I like to assist rather than score,” Gastin said. “I like to look for them first while I’m dribbling. I’m usually on the opposite post like the right, and I usually pass it to the opposite post and they’ll tap it in. The other girls are strong players which pushes me to push myself. I’m definitely learning a lot from them and the coaches.”
Sophomore forward Kaitlyn Flemming appeared in all 19 games, starting in eight, last season. Flemming leads the returning Broncs with five goals and recorded a multi-goal game during a MAAC contest against LIU Brooklyn.
Rider is also returning both of its goaltenders, sophomores Gillian Gunn and Lena Vandam. Vandam was a First Team All-MAAC honoree and the MAAC Co-Goalkeeper of the Year with Sacred Heart’s Hailey Power. She posted a .781 save percentage and allowed 1.54 goals per game.
On Aug. 21, the MAAC Preseason Coaches’ poll was released. The Broncs were slated in the fourth spot. Vandam, Flemming, senior midfielder Jessica Randazzo and senior defender Alison Amen were named to the All-MAAC Preseason Team. The four Broncs had the most nominations out of any school in the conference.
Randazzo and Amen, who are the senior captains this year, provide much-needed experience on a team composed mostly of underclassmen. Amen contributed four defensive saves for Rider in her junior season. Randazzo produced three goals off 18 shots – nine of which were on-goal attempts.
Hussong has led the Broncs to the postseason in each of her 18 years as the head coach, including the Northeast Conference and the MAAC. She attributes the continued success to the welcoming atmosphere they’ve built over the years.
“We’ve been very fortunate to be able to work with the very best people out there,” Hussong said. “Our players, past and present, represent all the qualities and values that we emphasize in our program and we appreciate all that have given and continue to give to our program. They make our job so enjoyable and rewarding.”
Although the team has added some new weapons in addition to some key returning the players, Rider fell to Drexel 8-2, on Aug. 26 in its season opener. Sophomore midfielder Marion Waterkeyn got Rider on the board just over two minutes into the game.
Freshman midfielder Julia Divorra assisted on the goal. The momentum shifted in Drexel’s favor, tacking on six second-half goals and outscoring the Broncs 6-1. Junior forward Tess Coorens recorded the fifth goal of her career off a penalty stroke in the 59th minute.
Hussong’s effort to recruit freshmen to impact the team’s offense showed early dividends in the Aug. 31 contest against Davidson.
After a two-hour lightning delay, a trio of newcomers found the back of the cage in a dominating 5-0 win over the Wildcats. Freshmen midfielders Julia Divorra and Tess van Ommeren and freshman forward Carly Brosious each scored their first collegiate goals in the 24th, 62nd and 48th minutes respectively.
Junior midfielder Tess Coorens and sophomore midfielder Kaitlyn Flemming both recorded their second goals of the season. Coorens wasted no time getting the Broncs on the board with her goal coming just six minutes into the contest. The victory not only marked the first win of 2018 but was also the 400th win in program history.
The Broncs’ third game of the young season featured an overtime battle against Appalachian State, which concluded in a 4-3 win for the Mountaineers.
With the game tied at three at the end of regulation, midfielder Fredi Stegen scored the game-winning goal for the Mountaineers. The Broncs travel to face Towson next for the third match of a five-game road trip on Sept. 7 before heading to Cornell on Sept. 9 for a contest that can be streamed on ESPN+ at 1 p.m.
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