By Brandon Scalea
It hasn’t taken very long for the 2015 Rider field hockey team to turn some heads.
After falling short to Monmouth in the MAAC Championship game last season, the Broncs’ quest to get back to the top of the conference has begun with four wins in four games.
On Aug. 28, Rider hosted Lehigh (1-2) in its home opener at Ben Cohen Field. Thanks to two saves from senior goalie Joelle Prettyman, the Broncs blanked the Mountain Hawks 3-0.
Sophomore forward Ally Baligian opened the scoring for Rider, bringing home a penalty stroke 12:09 into the game.
Head Coach Lori Hussong said Baligian’s role on the team has evolved since last season.
“Ally is twice the player she was last year,” she said. “She is confident, and we will be dependent on her to get our attack going in the right direction.”
Junior midfielder Carlota Alsina added a goal and an assist of her own, scoring off a penalty corner. Alsina assisted junior forward Carlie Spaeder on the third goal of the game, finding the back of the net with 1:31 left.
The Broncs (4-0) dominated the first game, holding the advantage in penalty corners, 14-8, and outshooting Lehigh 19-7.
On Aug. 30, the Broncs traveled to the nation’s capital for another non-conference meeting with Georgetown.
Once again, Rider dominated its opponent offensively, but the ball didn’t seem to find the net against the Hoyas (2-2).
Though they outshot Georgetown 22-6 and maintained a 15-4 advantage in penalty corners, the Broncs required late-game heroics to pull out the win.
After hitting the post earlier in the second half and missing an opportunity to give Rider the lead, Spaeder rebounded her own shot with 16 seconds left in the contest to break the scoreless tie and give the Broncs another victory. Spaeder was awarded MAAC Player of the Week for her performance in the first two games.
Hussong discussed the tactics behind allowing no goals in the opening contests.
“Right now we are playing tough, ‘bend but don’t break’ defense,” she said. “Our back line of [sophomore back] Kesheal Henderson, [sophomore back] Melissa Cunningham and [senior back] Melyssa Alonso is starting to really jell together and is a big reason why we’ve been able to limit our opponents’ shots.”
The road trip continued on Sept. 4 for the team, as they traveled to New York to take on Columbia (0-2).
Against its Ivy League opponent, the Broncs needed a lot more offense to escape with the win. That offense was provided by Baligian, who scored twice in 43 seconds, to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead late in the second half. Freshman forward Angie Price provided more, adding two goals of her own, the firsts of her college career.
Spaeder had an assist in the game, putting her points total to six in the early season. Sophomore forward Shannon Hughes also scored her first goal of the season to give Rider a 5-3 lead that would last the rest of the game.
To cap off the road trip, the Broncs traveled up to New England for a meeting with Vermont on Sept. 6. They scored the most goals as a team in three seasons, routing the Catamounts 6-1.
For the second straight game, Baligian and Price added two goals apiece. Baligian now has five goals on the season. She discussed the potential she sees in her team.
“We are a young team this year, but just like last year, we feel that will not stop us from playing for a championship,” said Baligian. “Our seniors are tremendous leaders and will guide us to where we want to be.”
Against Vermont (1-2), the Broncs took a comfortable 3-0 lead into halftime thanks to a pair of quick goals from Baligian and the first of two from Price.
Once again, the Broncs controlled the advantage in penalty corners, 13-11. Prettyman made five saves to preserve the win.
The undefeated Broncs will travel to Hempstead, N.Y. to take on Hofstra on Sept. 11.