By Dylan Manfre
As of Oct. 16, the Canisius and Niagara volleyball programs were fourth and fifth in the conference, with Rider volleyball sitting comfortably in second place behind Fairfield, the team who ended its seven-game win streak in straight sets in the Broncs’ last match on Oct. 10. It was a rather interesting split weekend for Rider who lost 3-1 to Niagara and beat Canisius 3-2.
Rotondo ‘had seen enough’
Niagara was rolling with continuity and chemistry throughout the entire match en route to a 3-1 victory over the Broncs.
Head Coach Jeff Rotondo knew things were not right going into the match.
“There was just a vibe that felt off today,” Head Coach Jeff Rotondo said. “I don’t know what it was even during warmups … Something felt off. I couldn’t put my finger on it.”
Sophomore outside hitter Tori Schrader agreed. She felt the energy of the team was not there.
“The vibes were just weird today and there was no specific reason,” Schrader said.
Rotondo felt the team was sufficiently prepared for the match and was willing to put his reputation on the line if his players were not.
“There is nobody that gives them a scouting or a game plan like we do,” Rotondo said. “I know how many hours I put into that. So they’re prepared. We just didn’t execute very well.”
Sophomore outside hitter Lindsey Frambach actually disagreed with her head coach’s strong belief.
“Our energy and communication throughout the team was off compared to when we played other teams,” Frombach said. “I feel like the traveling day yesterday was a lot on us, and we just weren’t prepared for today going into the game.”
The Purple Eagles took an early 11-2 set lead with numerous lengthy volleys that seemed to make Rider look unsturdy. Not much seemed cohesive in the set, which Rider dropped 25-13.
The Broncs dropped the second set and won the third. Rotondo swapped out a majority of his starters such as seniors Anilee Sher and Jillian Chan in the ensuing third set.
“I had seen enough. They had four opportunities, going back to the two sets against Fairfield in sets two and three, and sets one and two today,” Rotondo said. “They had four sets of volleyball to show me they were ready to go.”
Although the main pieces of the team were not in, he liked the production from freshman opposite hitter Jordan Taylor, sophomore libero Ella Notarfrancesco and freshman middle hitter Christina Blount.
In a rematch of the 2020-2021 MAAC volleyball championship, Rider showed, at bare mnimum, some genuine fight against Canisius — something that was not appaent the day prior when facing Niagara. The 3-2 win for the Broncs had the intensity, ebbs and flows and resilience of a championship game.
“We were all playing together and cheering,” junior opposite hitter Morgan Romano said. “We had energy and momentum that carried into the sets. Even when we were losing, we knew we had to come out and start strong again.”
Rider did not allow many runs in the first set, but was able to take it 25-20. Canisius had nine service errors to Rider’s six.
The next set featured a near mirror image of the first, at least for the start of it. Both teams traded points, and when the score hit 9-9, Rotondo took his first timeout of the match. Neither team got the upper hand until Canisius gained a three-point lead, 19-16, and eventually pulled away.
When Canisius reached set point, 24-18, Rider riddled off three straight points, temporarily making things exciting. Kills by Romano and Schrader brought Rider within one, but Canisius took the second set, 25-23.
Canisius seemed to roll into the third set with no shortage of energy. Rider, who swapped junior libero Pamela Loh with sophomore Molly Strah, gave up a 6-3 lead and looked lackadaisical overall as Canisius started to pull away in the set winning, 25-16.
What came in the fourth set is something Rotondo will not soon forget. He received a yellow card for arguing a carrying call at the beginning of the set. He was instructed to move to the end of the bench by the officials.
“I will be sending in the film to the referees, the arbiter’s office, … there were a couple of calls we were not too pleased with throughout the match, but there was one that was pretty egregious that wasn’t called,” Rotondo said.
Something positive to come from the fourth set was Romano recording her 1000th career kill with her 18th kill of the match helping Rider win the set.
The fift and final set had the MAAC Championship rematch written all over it, and only 15 points needed to be scored to secure a victory.
Rider held a slim 14-12 lead, and who else better to end the game than Romano. She had 22 kills on only 49 attempts, including the final point that gave Rider the win.
The Broncs will play a nonconference game against Columbia on Oct. 20 and face Saint Peter’s on Oct. 23.