By Lauren Amour
After a 3-8 start to the season, the volleyball team swept Iona 3-0 on their Sept. 21 home opener in Alumni Gym and defeated Manhattan on Sept. 22, 3-1.
The two-win week win for the Broncs was capped off with a sweep of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) weekly awards on Sept. 24.
Senior libero Rachelle Runyon won her third consecutive MAAC Libero of the Week honors. She was the first to be named Libero of the Week for three straight weeks since Niagara’s Rylee Hunt won five straight in 2017.
Freshman opposite hitter Morgan Romano took home her fourth-straight MAAC Rookie of the Week award. Romano was the first in MAAC Volleyball history to be named Rookie of the Week for four consecutive weeks.
Romano was also named MAAC Player of the Week for the first time in her collegiate career. She was the first to win both Rookie of the Week and Player of the Week honors in the same week since Saint Peter’s Alanis Alvarado accomplished the feat at the beginning of the 2018 season.
A back and forth first set against Iona found the MAAC opponents tied at 23 until junior outside hitter Ali Ward aided in breaking the tie with back-to-back points and a set-saving block to lead the Broncs to victory, 25-23 and took a 1-0 lead in the match.
Rider dominated the second set, quickly taking an 18-10 lead over the Gaels. The Broncs won set two, 25-19, and completed the sweep in set three, 25-18.
Romano continued to impress and recorded her team-leading fifth double-double of the season in the home opener, with 12 kills and 13 digs. In 11 out of 13 matches this season, Romano has recorded 11 or more kills in each. Her 214 digs this season lead the MAAC.
The victory against Iona was Romano’s first home win as a Bronc and it had her in great spirits.
“It feels really good, especially being a freshman, it was really new to me,” Romano said of the milestone. “Honestly, we just worked together as a team and we did it together. The energy was good, we played together and we did it for the seniors. It was their last first home game, so it was nice.”
In contrast, senior libero Rachelle Runyon, along with senior outside hitter Alexa Shello and senior middle hitter Evelyn Shanefield, soaked in the last moments of their last first home game of their collegiate volleyball careers.
“It was really special,” Runyon said. “It was really great that we could come together. It felt good on the court and it’s like everything we worked for the past couple months paid off.”
Along with Romano, Shello and Ward helped lead the offensive attack with nine and eight kills respectively. Shanefield, and freshman middle hitter Morgan Koch each contributed five kills.
Sophomore setter Anilee Sher registered 33 assists, nine digs, and four kills in the match.
Defensively, Runyon recorded a match-high 23 digs, marking the second match in a row and the sixth match this season in which she posted 20 or more digs.
Prior to the match, Head Coach Jeff Rotondo wanted to be sure the Broncs were ready for the competition ahead of them.
“I think they felt they were prepared. We went over film, we scouted them pretty heavily, and I think they just felt they were prepared for whatever Iona was going to try and throw at them. So, I think that definitely helped their confidence get to a good level,” said Rotondo.
Rotondo believes that consistency and finishing matches were key to the team’s first home win.
He said, “We’ve been in matches this year earlier where we had leads, we were in matches, we were playing teams really tough and we couldn’t find a way to finish; we let them back in. I think that we just stayed true to what we were trying to do with our game plan, and we executed it really well, and the girls really finished the match well.”
The Broncs headed to Riverdale, New York to take on Manhattan in another MAAC matchup on September 22. In their last meeting in November 2018, Rider swept the Jaspers 3-0 and 7-3 in their last 10 matchups.
Manhattan took the first set, 25-20, but the Broncs battled back and took the next three sets consecutively to win 3-1 by scores of 25-21, 25-20, and 25-23. The win was Rider’s third in a row as they improve to 5-8 overall and 2-0 in conference play.
Romano set a new career-high with 30 kills in the match against Manhattan. Sher remained consistent in the middle with 45 assists, two service aces, two block assists and eight digs. In addition, Shanefield, Shello and Koch contributed five kills each.
Runyon addressed the differences between facing back-to-back MAAC teams as opposed to non-conference teams the past three weeks.
“It’s different in the way where it’s a little more familiar,” Runyon said. “You scout more, you know people, you remember things, so in that way, the other team’s usually a little more prepared to play you and we’re usually a little more prepared to play them, whereas in a tournament, we’re playing teams we’ve never seen before and won’t ever see again. So, it’s important that we spend hours on scouting, we stick to it, and we remember everything we practiced.”
Rider faces-off against American, whom they have not met since they were swept in September 2016, on Sept. 25 in non-conference play. The Broncs return to Alumni Gym on Sept. 28 to take on MAAC rival Siena.