Sweet 16: Broncs back in playoffs

Sophomore forward Shannon Hughes scored the only goal in a 1-0 win against Bryant on Oct. 30.
Sophomore forward Shannon Hughes scored the only goal in a 1-0 win against Bryant on Oct. 30.

By Brandon Scalea

For the 16th consecutive season, the Rider field hockey team is playoff bound.

The Broncs headed into their final three regular season games in a do-or-die situation. In order to qualify for the postseason, they had to win them all. Thanks to a Senior Day win on Oct. 25 and a pair of 1-0 victories, Rider will look to erase last season’s disappointing loss in the MAAC title game and take the crown this year.

Although the playoffs are familiar territory for Head Coach Lori Hussong, she is still happy with her team’s late-season run.

“We could not be prouder of our team,” Hussong said. “The way we’ve seen them pull together and play tough, smart field hockey is amazing. After losing two conference games, we easily could have given up and headed in an opposite direction. But we dug deep and played with a sense of urgency.”

On Oct. 30, Rider (12-6, 4-2 MAAC) traveled to Smithfield, Rhode Island, to take on Bryant. Senior goalkeeper Joelle Prettyman did not have to make a save in the contest, but picked up the shutout in a big road win for the Broncs.

After a scoreless first half, Bryant (3-15, 1-4 MAAC) came out flying in the second. The Bulldogs barraged Prettyman with shots that were blocked in front, including one that rolled just wide of the left post.

Thankfully for the Broncs, the momentum shifted. After they cleared the defensive zone, sophomore forward Shannon Hughes tipped in a pass from midfield to give the Broncs the lone, deciding goal. Sophomore back Kesheal Henderson picked up the assist on the long pass.

Hughes felt as though she was simply in the right place at the right time.

“The only reason I was able to score that goal was because of my teammates,” Hughes said. “Kesheal had an amazing touch in the circle that allowed me to get to the ball and have a shot on goal.”

Although the score did not show it, Rider dominated the game offensively. They outshot Bryant 9-6 and held a 5-1 advantage in penalty corners. The Broncs were able to beat the Bulldogs for the seventh time in eight tries.

Against Siena on Nov. 1, it was a similar story for the Broncs. This time, junior forward Carlie Spaeder scored the game’s only goal. Spaeder’s game-winning goal, her 10th of the season, came 2:48 into the second half. Hughes provided the lone assist.

Even though Spaeder has the second-most goals on the team, she said the team’s chemistry is the reason for her success.

“We all have each other’s backs. It’s great to know that we are there for each other and stick together in the toughest times,” she said. “Our mindset heading into the playoffs is to continue this and be all-in.”

Hussong said that her team relies on Spaeder in key situations.

“Carlie’s goal was huge on Sunday and was set up beautifully by Shannon Hughes,” Hussong said. “It’s really important for her and our other forwards to continue to think to attack every time they have the ball on their sticks. The more shots we can get, the more we can score.”

Like the previous game, Prettyman did not need to do much in the goal crease. Rider dominated the offensive side of the game with 10 shots to Siena’s two. The Broncs also held an advantage of 7-3 in penalty corners.

Also in this year’s four-team conference playoff are Monmouth, Quinnipiac and Fairfield. The Broncs will take on the second-seeded Bobcats in the first game, with a chance to play for the MAAC Championship. Quinnipiac beat the Broncs 3-2 earlier this year.

Hussong believes that the playoffs are a new game; all previous match-ups are simply history.

“As most people know, playoff time is not about who is the most skilled in the tournament, but who wants it more, who’s peaking at the right time,” she said. “Losing to Quinnipiac earlier this year should give us twice the motivation to get the job done and move on to the finals.”

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