By Andrew Smolar
In the Towson Tournament, the Rider Volleyball Team was able to pick up its first win of the season but it still was not the weekend they wanted as they dropped two out of three defeating Morgan State but losing to Fairleigh Dickinson and Towson.
‘We were pleased’
In the opening round of the Towson Tournament, the Broncs fell flat as they were swept by Fairleigh Dickinson on Sept. 1 to start their weekend of play.
The first set of the day was a tight, back-and-forth competition, as neither team ever held more than a four-point cushion. The two teams started the set going point for point with each other until a 4-0 run by FDU gave it a 7-4 advantage. They scored two of the next three points to open up their largest lead of the set at 9-5.
Rider immediately responded, however, with a 4-0 run of their own to knot the set at 9-9. Despite FDU grabbing the lead right back with two more points, the Broncs went on a 3-0 run to regain the lead at 16-15.
Rider maintained the forefront until a 5-1 run by the Knights turned the game upside down. A 21-18 lead allowed FDU to trade two-point runs with the Broncs for the remainder of the set, and ultimately win 25-22.
As a whole, Head Coach Jeff Rotondo was pleased with his team’s ability to recover in the match, but wanted to see them seal the deal.
“We were pleased that we were able to claw back into the match after a slow start,” Rotondo said. “Putting ourselves in position to win that first set showed good resiliency, but it was short lived due to our inconsistencies.”
The second set was all about runs by both teams. Rider grabbed the initial lead at 2-0, but then allowed FDU to score six of the next seven points to open with a 7-3 lead.
The Broncs were able to rally, scoring five straight and eventually taking a 9-8 advantage.
Unfortunately for the Broncs, the Knights would soon turn the tide.
After trailing 12-11, FDU was able to score six unanswered points, turning a one-point deficit into a five-point lead, which was enough for the Knights to coast the rest of the way and take home the second set 25-21.
In the end, Rider’s slow start in the final set of the day was what did them in. Five consecutive points by FDU put the Broncs behind right away.
Despite rallying off three points of their own to cut the deficit to 5-4, the Broncs never got any closer.
The Knights scored nine of the set’s next 12 points to turn what looked like a competitive set into a runaway. They held a seven-point advantage (14-7).
The Knights were never seriously threatened the rest of the way as the closest the Broncs got to being even was four points. Fairleigh Dickinson ended up completing the sweep with a 25-20 victory.
The slow start is something Rotondo was not pleased with.
“This seems to be a recurring theme that I hope is annoying the team as much as it is annoying me,” Rotondo said. “Always playing catch-up is frustrating and can make a team play tense if they are not dealing with each point separately.”
Despite the relatively even overall score, there was one notable difference in team statistics: total kills, which was 49-37 in favor of FDU. This especially sticks out when you realize the Broncs lost all three sets by a combined 12 points.
“We are not scoring enough and we are making it entirely too easy for teams to score on us,” Rotondo said. “We need to generate offense at the same time finding ways to neutralize the other side better than we currently are.”
Notable individual performances included eight kills apiece by sophomore middle hitter Carley McAleavey and senior outside hitter Jenna Amaro, 27 assists by junior setter Ryley Frye and 15 digs by sophomore libero Keegan O’Connor.
Back in the win column
Rider continued the Towson Tournament with a victory against Morgan State University on Sept. 2. The Broncs took the match in a sweep for their first victory of the season.
Rotondo mentioned the victory was vital in order to get back on track and gain some momentum.
“The team definitely needed to get a win just to remove the bad taste and memory of yesterday,” Rotondo said. “They know they have not shown their best yet, the energy and cohesiveness were really good.”
Rider was able to take the first set of the day by a score of 25-22. The set was initially competitive before the Broncs fell behind, but were able to rally to earn the comeback victory.
After trading points with Rider for the first six points, Morgan State went on a 7-0 run to open up what looked to be a comfortable 10-3 advantage. That seemed to still be the case later on in the set as the Bears at one point held a 17-10 lead over the Broncs.
However, Rider would score nine unanswered points to completely change the narrative of the game. They quickly were able to turn a monster deficit into a lead and coast the rest of the way en route to the victory.
The second set was another competitive affair in which the Broncs fell behind early but were able to rally.
After allowing Morgan State to score three consecutive points at the beginning of the set, Rider was able to knot things at three before another major Morgan State run put the Broncs behind again.
Trailing 8-3, Rider never panicked as they slowly chipped away at the Bears via a 9-4 run to tie the set up at 12-12. The teams then traded five-point runs to keep the set tight down the stretch.
After trailing 18-17, the Broncs were able to execute and closed the set out, as they scored three unanswered points en route to a 25-21 win.
During the first two sets, Rotondo was pleased with his team’s ability to believe in themselves and come back.
“The energy stayed really high all match, and that allowed them to believe they would be able to fight back,” Rotondo said. “Even though we got down in the first two sets, it was mostly our own self-inflicted wounds.”
The final set of the day was a runaway for Rider in which they started fast and never looked back.
The Broncs immediately earned a 4-0 lead right out of the gate before the Bears cut the deficit to one with three points of their own. That was the closest they would get, however, as Rider responded with a 6-2 run to stretch the lead to five.
The set was never competitive after that, as the Broncs gained some serious separation thanks to seven points in a row. Rider scored another four unanswered points shortly after to make the lead as large as 13 and eventually closed out the set with a 25-13 victory to complete the sweep.
The Broncs held an advantage in kills (35-23), aces (9-3), assists (34-21) and digs (46-29).
Of all these statistical edges, what pleased Rotondo the most was the serving aspect of his team’s game.
“The aces were great, but it was the byproduct of serving really tough and accurately,” Rotondo said. “We had a goal of getting Morgan State out of system, or making a bad pass, at least seven times per set and we surpassed that goal each set.”
Notable individual performances for Rider included 21 assists by Frye, 13 digs by O’Connor and 7 kills by McAleavey.
‘It was a little frustrating‘
Rider concluded the tournament with a defeat at the hands of Towson. The Broncs were swept 3-0 with the closest set being a four-point gap.
Rider came out of the gate on fire in the first set as they scored the first seven points to grab a comfortable cushion. That wouldn’t last long, however, as the Tigers stormed back with an 8-0 run of their own to get right back in it.
After the set was knotted at eight, Towson scored three unanswered points before the Broncs matched it with four points of their own to temporarily grab the lead back.
That would be the last time Rider held a lead during the set, however, as the Tigers would take control of the set with a four-point surge and another three unanswered shortly after to go up 19-14. They would then coast the rest of the way en route to a 25-21 victory.
The response from Towson is not something that surprised Rotondo.
“We knew Towson would fight back, they are a NCAA Sweet 16 team from a year ago,” Rotondo said. “They have too much talent not to find a groove and are good, athletic, and well coached.”
The second set was a back and forth affair to start as they went point for point for the first six points of the set before the Broncs grabbed a 5-3 advantage.
The fun was short lived, however, as Towson would answer by scoring four consecutive and 10 of the set’s next 12 points to turn a small deficit into a 13-7 lead.
The Tigers never relinquished the momentum from that point on as the closest they allowed the Broncs to being even was a 13-8 deficit. Towson would close the set on a 12-6 run and win 25-14 in convincing fashion.
Rider could never seriously establish any momentum in the final set of the day. After falling behind 2-0, the Broncs rallied off three unanswered points to grab a 3-2 lead. That would be the last time they held a lead.
The Tigers would respond with a 4-0 run to retake the lead at 6-3 and never relinquished it. Rider would get close to tying the game a few times: at 7-6, 10-9, 11-10 and 13-12 but could just never get over the hump.
Towson would go on a 7-2 run to stretch the lead to 20-14, their largest of the set. The Broncs would put a scare into the Tigers near the end thanks to a 4-0 run that trimmed the lead to two (21-19) but Towson responded with a 4-0 run of their own to win the final set 25-19 and complete the sweep.
Despite the difficult loss, Rotondo was pleased with his team’s ability to remain neck and neck with a team of Towson’s caliber.
“It was a little frustrating but there are a lot of positives we can take from this,” Rotondo said. “Staying close with a veteran team while having a lot of youth on our side was what we aspired to heading into the match.”
Rider was outmatched on the stat sheet as they had 10 more errors (23-13), fewer aces (12-7) and fewer blocks (13-5) than the Tigers.
The Broncs next matchup will be against Rutgers on Sept. 6 at home beginning at 7 p.m.