By Brandon Scalea
The women’s soccer team is MAAC-playoff bound for the fourth straight year following a come-from-behind win at Iona on Oct. 19.
This year, Rider (9-5-3, 6-3-1 MAAC) started conference play 4-0, its best start in program history. However, the Broncs had only won two of their last four heading into the contest against the Gaels.
Head Coach Drayson Hounsome said he is proud of what the team has been able to accomplish this season.
“This year, we matched the most MAAC points the program has had in a season,” he said. “We have an experienced group of players who know what a home playoff game around Halloween feels like. The hard work came over the summer, then together during the heat of August and preseason.”
After 55 minutes of scoreless action, Iona broke the scoreless tie in the 56th minute. The Gaels’ senior midfielder Mariana Jaramillo took a pass in the right side of the box and sent a rising shot past senior goalkeeper Bethany-May Howard.
However, instead of giving Iona the momentum, the goal seemed to ignite the Broncs, who responded quickly.
In the 60th minute, junior midfielder Hollie Kelsh finally broke through for her first goal of the season. The goal came unassisted, as a lob pass was sent into the box and deflected off several Iona defenders, right to Kelsh, who drove it past the goalkeeper to tie the game at one.
Just three minutes later, the offensive pressure led to another Rider goal as junior midfielder Ellie Smith netted her eighth of the season. After a pass from sophomore forward Kourtney Cunningham, Smith moved in on the goalie and made a terrific move to slide the ball into the empty net. The 2-1 score would remain until the final horn.
Howard made three saves, as Iona’s Tiffany Martinez made five, but the Broncs outshot the home team 9-6.
In the final regular season game of 2016, Rider fell on the road to Fairfield on Oct. 22. Heading into the contest with only two wins on the year, the Stags used a late second-half goal to steal a 1-0 win from the Broncs.
Despite the loss, Howard made five saves. Fairfield’s Megan DeFeo, however, made six.
The lone goal came in the 88th minute, as Brenna Brown of the Stags drove one into the net from the right side. Fairfield outshot the Broncs 12-10. The Stags’ victory pushed the all-time series to 17-5, in their favor.
The MAAC Tournament will begin on Oct. 29. Rider’s seed will not be determined until Oct. 26, but Monmouth and Siena have clinched the first and second seeds, respectively. The Hawks will have home-field advantage throughout the tournament.
Last season, the Broncs fell to Monmouth in the semifinal.
Hounsome said the team is ready to win a championship for the second time in three seasons.
“Now the fun starts and it’s the reward for the grind of the MAAC regular season schedule,” he said. “We will be fully rested for the first time in over a month and prepared to start the final part of the championship journey.”