By Andrew Smolar
Rider split a pair of weekend matches for the second week in a row, falling to Canisius 3-1 on Nov. 5, before executing an impressive 3-0 sweep of Niagara on Nov. 6.
In the last five weeks, the Broncs are 5-4, making minuscule, yet positive progress toward the .500 mark.
Consistency is key
Volleyball lost a tough matchup with Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) rival Canisius on Nov. 5. The Golden Griffins won the match three sets to one and outscored the Broncs 95-82 over the four sets.
The first set of the afternoon was a poor start that doomed Rider, Canisius starting the set by scoring the first seven points. This proved to be too much for the Broncs to ever realistically overcome. The closest they came to tying the score was within five points on two different occasions. The Golden Griffins finished the set on a 12-2 run, which included the last seven points of the set, taking the first set, 25-10.
The second set was much more competitive, but still one that Rider will dread due to a slow start. Canisius scored the first three points of the set and had a lead as high as six points at 11-5, and also re-established a five point lead at 18-13. Despite being able to rally fairly early on at 14-12, the Broncs could never come all the way back. The Broncs almost caught up to Canisius late in the set at 23-22, but back-to-back points by the Golden Griffins ended any hope of completing the comeback as they won the second set 25-22.
The first two sets shared a common problem that Head Coach Jeff Rotondo knows needs to be corrected.
“Slow starts continue to haunt us,” Rotondo said. “Whatever mindset we are coming out with obviously is not working. We will have to check in and determine what tools they are using to prepare prior to the start of the match.”
Rider was able to reverse the trend of slow starts in the third set and it paid major dividends. After trailing 3-1, the Broncs were able to rally off seven of the next eight points to steal momentum from Canisius. Despite letting the Golden Griffins lessen the Broncs’ lead twice , at 8-6 and 9-7, that was the closest they ever got. After the latter score, Rider would score three consecutive points to bring the lead up to five, holding onto that lead and eventually won the set 25-18.
As far as improvements made in the third set, Rotondo kept it simple and they played with more consistency.
“We found a way to play with energy, and keep it consistent throughout the set,” Rotondo said. “When energy is up, execution becomes easier and the points we lost previously we were able to finish.”
The momentum carried over from the third set into the start of the fourth, but couldn’t be sustained. The Broncs started the set strong on a 5-1 run. Rider then opened up their largest lead of the set on the strength of a run that made the score 14-5 and also held a lead of 18-10. Canisius flipped the script in a hurry with a run to suddenly take the lead at 20-19. The teams traded points until the Golden Griffins scored three unanswered points to win the final set 27-25.
Despite the rough ending, Rotondo was pleased to see his team could hang with one of the MAAC’s best teams, even with adversity.
“The positives are [that] we witness we can compete with the top teams in the MAAC, even with all the different lineups we have had to run out there this year due to injury and sickness,” Rotondo said. “Hopefully we can find some consistency over the next week.”
Energy and spirit
Volleyball was able to bounce back from a difficult loss the day before with a sweep of MAAC rival Niagara on Nov 6. The Broncs won each set by at least seven points, and sent the graduating seniors out in style.
Rotondo was thrilled to see the energy and focus his team showed, especially after the disappointing outing the day prior.
“It was definitely nice to see the team play with such spirit, especially after Saturday,” Rotondo said. “They really rallied around the seniors and it created a great atmosphere for the team to thrive in.”
The first set started off poorly for Rider; however, they regained their advantage throughout the rest of the set. The Purple Eagles once held a lead as high as four at an 8-4 score after scoring five points in a row. They went on another 3-0 run later, as well as gaining an 11-9 lead and holding a 15-14 lead later in the set. The Broncs went on to score six consecutive points as well as the set’s final five to end the set on a dominant 11-1 run to win the first set 25-16.
According to Rotondo, the biggest reason for the dominant 11-1 run was the defensive adjustments discussed prior to the game.
“After they settled in and we made some defensive adjustments that we talked about in our scout meeting, we were able to frustrate Niagara’s offense and stretch the lead,” Rotondo said. “The team executed very well in the adjustments, allowing us to build a wide margin midway through the set.”
The second set was never a contest, Rider scoring the first four points of the set as well as another five in a row shortly after to establish a 9-1 lead right off the bat. They also had two other 4-0 runs in addition to a 3-0 run throughout the set and won in blowout fashion 25-8.
As far as what allowed such a dominant set, it was simply a continuation of the adjustments made from the first set, according to Rotondo.
“Going back to set one when we made an adjustment to the defense we were playing, it proved to continue to cause Niagar’s hitters problems,” Rotondo said. “That allowed us to play a very clean set.”
The final set was closely contested for a while until a monster run by the Broncs opened up a lead that Niagara couldn’t overcome. Rider started the set with a 3-1 run that the Purple Eagles responded to and by grabbing a 7-6 lead, which was the last lead Niagara had.lead Niagara had. The Broncs scored the set’s next four points to grab the lead right back and never relinquished it. They tacked on another 3-0 run and a huge 6-0 run, the latter of which opened up the largest lead of the set for Rider at 22-13. The Broncs won the final set 25-18 to complete the sweep.
The lasting impact left by the seniors was felt by everyone. Junior Molly Strah emphasized as much, saying “The seniors this year have truly impacted not only me individually but the program as a whole a tremendous amount….Over the past three years I have gotten to spend time with them, it has made me realize how grateful I am to have experienced life with them.”
The Broncs close out the regular season with two final conference games against Fairfield and Quinnipiac, taking place on Nov. 12 and Nov. 13 respectively.