By Austin Ferguson
The Broncs continued their winning ways from the prior week with a sweep of Marist on Oct. 26 and a 3-1 victory over Siena on Oct. 27.
Freshman opposite hitter Morgan Romano was awarded her ninth-straight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Rookie of the Week and her second MAAC Player of the Week on Oct. 29.
Rider took the trip to upstate New York to compete against Marist in an afternoon matchup. The Broncs lost their last match with the Red Foxes on Sept. 29 in a back-and-forth five-set match.
Despite the final score, Rider had to earn every point it scored against Marist. In the first set, the Red Foxes were first to reach 25 points. The Broncs had sat right under them at 24 points, forcing the set to continue.
Rider and Marist traded scores until a kill, which results from a direct score from a non-returnable hit, from junior outside hitter Ali Ward and an error from Marist outside hitter Megan Fergus solidified the 29-27 set victory for the Broncs.
In the second set, the Broncs looked to pull away when they took a 22-19 lead in the set. Marist surged back and took a 24-23 lead in the set. Rider’s hitters thwarted the Red Foxes’ attempted comeback with successive scores from Ward, freshman middle hitter Morgan Koch and Romano to win the second set, 26-24.
The Broncs were operating from behind early on in the third set when they found themselves down 5-1 to begin the set.
Rider fought back to take a 9-8 lead in the third frame, then battled back-and-forth with Marist. The Broncs and the Red Foxes found themselves past the 25-point threshold again as neither team was able to pull ahead. Back-to-back kills from senior middle hitter Evelyn Shanefield and Ward cemented the 29-27 set victory and the hard-fought sweep over Marist.
Rider Head Coach Jeff Rotondo said the match was a “great test of the team’s grit and coming out on the winning end of those three close sets.”
“We talk a lot about our ability to recover from bad points quickly and move on,” Rotondo said. “The team did a phenomenal job of making sure they recovered within 2-3 seconds to any point lost [against Marist], and really played together.”
Sophomore setter Anilee Sher attributed the team’s high level of energy toward the tough win over Marist.
“We played like we were up the whole time and the energy and momentum that we had throughout the game carried us to the end,” said Sher.
Rotondo also introduced a thought process that originated 900 miles from Rider’s campus for the Broncs to use on the court against Marist and in future games.
“We implemented a mindset of staying aggressive and going for it that we stole from the University of Florida soccer team,” Rotondo said. “Something they call ‘stay green,’ which means to stay aggressive and go for it, like a green light. The team drew green dots on their hands prior to the match as a constant reminder.”
Romano and Ward led the way for Rider in kills with 21 and 14 respectively. Senior libero Rachelle Runyon led the match with 20 digs and junior defensive specialist Danielle Blanco registered 12 digs of her own.
Sher, who was playing in her hometown of Poughkeepsie, had a match-high 41 assists and registered seven digs.
“Playing at Marist is my favorite game of the season,” Sher said. “I feel so much love and support when we go there and I love playing in front of my friends and family.”
The Broncs remained in New York when they traveled to Loudonville to take on Siena. Rider won its previous match against the Saints on Sept. 28 in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, 3-1.
After scoring the first point in the set, Rider found itself trying to catch up the entire first set and dropped it, 25-21.
“After the emotional and mentally taxing win against Marist the day before, I had a sense we could be a little flat to start against Siena,” Rotondo said. “In addition, we did not have a lot of time to prep their mounds for Siena, as we had just gone over scouting that morning.”
The second set, similar to the sets against Marist, was a close one. Neither team was able to pull away with a large lead. Tied at 24, Romano registered a kill followed by a service ace to take the set, 26-24.
Though the third set was close, Rider held onto a lead for the entire set and won, 25-22. The Broncs were also ahead for the entire fourth set, but unlike the previous sets, they succeeded in a blowout, 25-12, and won the match, 3-1.
Rider’s starting hitters all registered double digits in kills, with Romano, Koch and Ward recording 14, 13 and 10 kills respectively. Romano also recorded 17 digs, which tied Runyon with the team lead.
Sher recorded her seventh double-double of the season and finished the match with 46 assists and 10 digs.
After their 2-0 weekend and fourth-straight win, the Broncs sit tied for fourth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) standings with Marist with an 8-4 record.
“The players have been tremendous in the buy-in and preparation,” Rotondo said. “That gave them the opportunity to go 4-0 over these last 4 games, all of which were on the road.”
Fairfield remains atop the MAAC with an undefeated conference record in 10 matches. Canisius and Niagara also place above Rider in a second-place tie with 8-3 records.
The Broncs return home on Nov. 2 and 3 to take on both second-place MAAC teams in a pair of Alumni Gymnasium showdowns. Rider will take on Canisius on Nov. 2 at 12 p.m. and Niagara on Nov. 3 at 1 p.m.
“The momentum we have gained from winning four straight games is very crucial to our season,” Sher said. “Moving up in the standings heading into the MAAC tournament is very important for us to help with our momentum and confidence.”