By Jordan Hall
Capturing a championship is a tremendous feat, but winning multiple titles exhibits true greatness, something the swimming and diving program has a chance to do this season.
The women’s team took the first-place crown in the MAAC last year and have an opportunity to gain legendary status this campaign by doing it again. The men’s side put together a terrific season as well, finishing second in the conference behind Loyola (MD). With all the pieces in place, the former runner-ups have a legitimate shot at taking that final step atop the league for the first time since 2004.
Ever since Rider entered the MAAC in 1996, no swimming and diving team in its elite program has ever won consecutive conference championships, but these Broncs believe they have the ability to do so.
“We have our largest roster ever in my nine years here, so the competitiveness of the team has been elevated,” said Head Coach Steve Fletcher. “Our freshman class is one of the most talented we’ve ever recruited, speed wise, out of high school. We have a higher level of talent than we’ve ever had.”
Defending a title is no easy task. Once a team boasts the championship label, the pressure begins to build because a team is no longer the hunter but instead, the hunted. Rider doesn’t mind this role. In fact, they’re embracing it with open arms.
“I think that’s what makes really good teams great because they’re able to repeat as champions year after year and still maintain the sense of humility that leads to a focus on the little things, details, effort, hard work and discipline,” Fletcher said. “Those type of things tend to get lost as you win year after year because you get comfortable.When you look at programs, regardless of the sport, if they repeat, you know they’re doing something as a coaching staff, as a team, leadership-wise, to be able to focus on the little things better than everyone else and remain disciplined.”
Led by last season’s MAAC and Eastern College Athletic Championships (ECAC) Coach of the Year, Fletcher, and MAAC diving Coach of the Year, Dennis Ceppa, the Broncs have the right personnel guiding them to aspirations of back-to-back conference rings.
Not only does Rider possess a top-notch coaching staff, but they also have one of the premier female divers in the nation: senior Amanda Burke. The standout performer is looking to put the final touches on her outstanding collegiate career.
“I couldn’t ask for anything better than another MAAC championship,” said Burke.
As for the pressure of being the reigning champions, Burke doesn’t believe this group will be fazed.
“I think now that we know what it feels like to be champions, we don’t want to lose again and we’re not holding back this year,” she said. “Our team is more motivated and stronger than last year.”
Other key components to Rider’s success this season will be junior and senior swimmers Brianna Burns and Scott Player. With the experience and talent of the upperclassmen to go along with the added depth of the freshmen, Rider will be the toughest out in the MAAC.
Rider has never finished lower than third place on the women’s or men’s side in the conference, proving to be a consistent force in the league year in and year out. Complacency is never an issue for this program.
The Broncs are already off to a solid start, defeating Seton Hall last week and falling to UMBC in a meet where Fletcher was proud of his team’s effort.
“The last two weeks, our divers are consistently at the top,” Fletcher said. “Overall, we’re already starting to improve and we’re seeing very good signs.”
Rider understands what’s at stake, but this season is no different from any years past. The focus, desire and work ethic remain intact and the hunger for another championship is even greater.