By Carlos Toro
Despite having the most regular season wins in two decades, the volleyball team wrapped up the regular season with three losses.
Rider (17-15, 10-8 MAAC) lost to Iona on the road on Nov. 12, and then at home on Nov. 15 and 16 to the top two MAAC teams — Siena and Marist.
Head Coach Christopher Feliciano thinks the team is better than they looked this past week.
“We’re tougher than what we played (this weekend),” Feliciano said. “We just need to clear our minds and get back to work [for the MAAC tournament].”
The Broncs traveled to New Rochelle, N.Y., on Nov. 12 to face the Gaels (8-22, 5-13 MAAC) and got off to a good start in the first set when they were leading 10-6, but a couple of errors put Iona back into the game. Rider, however, maintained control and won the first two sets 25-18 and 25-22 in what looked to be a sweep for the Broncs.
Leading the third set 4-3, Iona got off to a 12-3 scoring run. The Broncs could not respond and lost the set 25-13. The fourth set was not much different, as the Gaels capitalized on Rider’s mistakes and managed to tie the game with another 25-13 set win.
The fifth and final set started off with the two teams locked in a stalemate. When the score was tied at 8-8, two straight kills by Iona senior outside hitter Catrina Warren pushed them ahead and the Gaels won the set 15-10 and the match.
For Rider, senior right side outside hitter Kayla Wong had 14 kills and attacked .250, with freshman Emma Aldaya adding 18 digs. Senior setter Ashlee Amatulli had 29 assists and freshman setter Veronica Koval had 22 assists.
On Nov. 15, the Broncs faced off against Siena (16-14, 14-4 MAAC). Rider lost to Siena earlier in the season 3-0. The Broncs were all but locked in the No. 5 seed in the MAAC Tournament, but wanted to play well against a top team in the conference.
The Saints pulled through late in the first set, as mistakes caught up to the Broncs and they lost 25-19.
In the following set, Siena won handily 25-13. The subsequent set saw the Saints grab a big lead early with a 16-8 scoring run. The Broncs tried to come back, cutting the lead to 18-13, but it was too much of an uphill climb. Rider lost the final set 25-19.
Freshman right side hitter Jennifer Borio had eight kills and hit .467 with Amatulli adding 15 assists and five digs. Koval had 11 assists with Wong adding seven kills, two digs and two blocks.
Feliciano thinks that the players needed to clear their minds of their recent play and refocus.
“I don’t know where this mental frustration and these mental lapses are coming from,” Feliciano said. “They’re usually very good and strong. I’m just going to equate this as a bad day for us.”
The Broncs played a well-rounded game against Marist (23-5, 15-3 MAAC) early in the contest on Nov. 16. The team’s play was highlighted by several service aces, as it jumped to a 20-14 lead in the first set. Rider managed to win the opening set 25-22.
Both teams battled in the second set, as neither squad’s lead was greater than 3 points, until Marist pulled through and won 25-20.
The Broncs started winning the third set 13-8, but five unanswered points by the Red Foxes tied it at 13 points for each team. Unfortunately for Rider, Marist’s offense picked up and the Red Foxes won the set 25-20. Errors plagued the Broncs throughout the set, but Amatulli believes they can be fixed.
“We will change (what we did wrong) in practice and we’ll leave it all in the playoffs,” Amatulli said.
Marist quickly took control of the game in the final set and won it 25-12 and the game 3-1. Webber had 16 digs and 15 kills. Amatulli finished the game with 26 assists and 12 digs, eclipsing the 1,000 career dig mark. She will graduate as Rider’s third all-time leading setter and will enter the MAAC Tournament with 2,733 career assists.
Sophomore outside hitter Ryan Ackermann compiled 11 kills and four blocks with Koval adding 14 assists and six digs.
Despite the recent string of losses, the Broncs have not only eclipsed last season’s conference and overall win total, they had their best regular season since 1994.
The Broncs left the morning of Nov. 17 and headed to Florida for the MAAC Championship. Rider is the No. 5 seed in the double-elimination tournament and will face No. 4 Fairfield (17-11, 13-5 MAAC) on Nov. 20 at Disney’s Wide World of Sports.
Fairfield beat Rider twice 3-0 in October, but Feliciano’s staff has already begun preparations for the Stags, seeing as how they were likely the team Rider was going to face in the opening round.
“The staff and I have already started preparing (for Fairfield) last week,” Feliciano said. “We have played tougher competition than the rest of the conference so we have that experience, and hopefully it’ll take us to where we want to go and that’ll win that first round.”