By Brandon Scalea
The women’s soccer team, 2014 MAAC champion, began its quest for another title on Aug. 19 at Ben Cohen Field.
Right away, Rider (2-2-1) was put to the test as it faced Rutgers, ranked No. 10 nationally at the time. In front of more than 800 fans, the Scarlet Knights came alive in the second half to win the game, 4-1.
Between both teams, 18 shots were registered in the first half, but only one lit the scoreboard. That shot came from freshman midfielder Valeria Pascuet and found the back of the net, just below the crossbar. Pascuet actually hit the crossbar later in the contest.
Her first collegiate shot and goal put the Broncs up 1-0 in the 28th minute.
The second half, however, was all Rutgers. After throwing 14 shots at senior goalkeeper Bethany-May Howard in the first half, Rutgers added 11 more after the break. Just 28 seconds into the second frame, Rutgers midfielder Colby Ciarrocca beat Howard to tie the game at one. Thirty-nine seconds later, the Scarlet Knights took the lead after senior forward Madison Tiernan scored from 15 yards out.
In the 57th minute, the Rutgers lead was extended to two after forward Nicole Whitley took a rebound off a header, and sent it past Howard and into the cage. Nine minutes later, the Scarlet Knights added a fourth goal from 15 yards out.
The Broncs only registered one shot in the second half.
On Aug. 25, Rider sought redemption as it hosted another in-state 2015 NCAA tournament team, Fairleigh Dickinson (FDU). This time, the Broncs dominated from start to finish for a 5-0 win, thanks in large part to a hat trick from junior midfielder Ellie Smith. It was the first time Rider beat FDU since 2012.
Smith said the win felt great, especially after what the team felt was a disappointing performance against Rutgers.
“Winning this one by such a large margin was a huge confidence boost for us,” she said. “It was a much-needed win, and we knew it was going to be tough, but we all fought for it and wanted it badly. It was a great win.”
In the first half, sophomore forward Kourtney Cunningham assisted in Rider’s two goals. The first came from freshman midfielder Sofia Soares, a header into the net off a feed from Cunningham. Just 11 minutes later, Cunningham fed a perfect cross to Smith, who tapped it in from five yards out for her first goal of the night.
In the 72nd minute, Smith put home an unassisted goal to make it 3-0, before knocking one in off a corner kick to make it 5-0. For the fourth goal, freshman midfielder Bethany Feinstein notched her first career goal.
The Broncs outshot the Knights, 18-9. Howard made three saves in her 15th career shutout, already a Rider record.
Some might call Rider’s first two games challenging, but Smith said it will only help the team in the long run.
“I think playing the top teams allows us to test ourselves and try to match them,” she said. “If we are competing with teams that play in the NCAA tournament, it gives us confidence that we can beat anyone. It allows us to push ourselves to our maximum.”
Three days later, Rider headed up to Staten Island, New York, for its first road contest against Wagner. The Broncs came from behind in the second half with two unanswered goals for a 2-1 victory.
Three minutes into the second half, Cunningham beat the Wagner keeper to tie the game after a feed from Soares. Then, in the 66th minute, Smith scored her fourth goal in two games after she stole the ball away from a Wagner player and put one home. The goal was the 11th of Smith’s career.
On Sept. 4, the Broncs took on another tough opponent, an undefeated Bucknell team. Junior forward Michelle Iacono scored for the Broncs, but the Bison quickly answered. Ninety minutes of regulation time and two overtimes would not be enough to break a 1-1 tie, and the contest ended in a draw.
Rider hosts NJIT at Ben Cohen Field on Sept. 8.