Winning ways: Rider’s top 5 sports

By Carlos Toro

Many Rider freshmen hear of the famous Roughriders football team that played several decades ago. T-shirts bear the text “Rider football: Undefeated since 1951.”

But while football enjoys its longstanding inside jokes, many other sports have built temples of triumph at Rider. This poses a question: Which sport has the best record in Rider’s history?

Here are the top five sports in Rider’s history that have the best winning percentages.

These numbers are based on regular-season records and did not include meets or multi-school competitions as they do not count against a team’s overall record. Wins and losses are through the most recent completed season.

Honorable Mention: Women’s Soccer: 144-184-36 (.455 win percentage)

Leading up to its historic 2014 season, when it won the MAAC Championship for the first time and went to the NCAA Tournament, women’s soccer had been rising in the previous few seasons. After winning just nine games in 2008 and 2009, the first two years under current head coach Drayson Hounsome, the team enjoyed six straight winning seasons, culminating with that championship season.

While Rider’s youngest varsity program, having only started in 1997, women’s soccer has already accumulated many successes. The program has six players in its history who have scored at least 20 goals, the most recent being former midfielder Tara Ballay, who just finished her senior season.

5. Men’s Basketball: 1,175-1,015 (.537 win percentage)

The men’s basketball team started in 1928, when the Broncs were still the Roughriders. The team was under the tutelage of Hall of Fame basketball coach Clair Bee for the first three seasons, when the team had a combined record of 52-7. Take that, Golden State!

The men’s basketball program is also second in school history in all-time wins with 1,175 heading into the 2015-2016 season. The program also has more than a dozen Rider hall of famers, with former Bronc and current NBA player Jason Thompson — who is the Sacramento Kings’ all-time leader in games played — joining its ranks later in the summer. On Feb. 29, Thompson signed a deal with the Toronto Raptors after spending the first half of the season with the defending champion Warriors.

The team has a 165-129 record from 2006-2015. This year’s team almost made history when it nearly defeated then-No. 3 Maryland on the road on Nov. 20, 2015, but has since then struggled.

4.  Baseball: 1,379-1,107-14 (.554 win percentage)

The 2015 MAAC regular season champions won 28 games last season, bringing their all-time win total to 1,379. Most of the program’s success can be attributed to former head coach Sonny Pittaro, who coached the team from 1971-2004 and is Rider’s winningest head coach with 766 wins. Pittaro led the program to nine conference championships and eight NCAA Regional appearances and sent 41 players to a career in professional baseball. Rider’s baseball field is named in his honor.

Current head coach Barry Davis has led the Broncs to similar levels of success. In 2010, the team won a program-best 36 games while clinching a MAAC Championship and a trip to the NCAA Regionals.

When Bee formed the baseball program in 1929, the team only played five games that year. The program went defunct for more than a decade, restarting for only two years in 1941 and 1942 before coming back in 1946. It was not until 1947 when John Kelly took the mantle of head coach that Rider baseball began a run of success that has lasted more than a half century, with just 10 losing seasons from 1947-2004, when Pittaro retired.

Arguably the best season in program history came in 1967, when the team won 31 games and played in the College World Series, the only time the team made it there.

3. Swimming and Diving: 450-360-1 (.555 winning percentage)

While many people do not look at swimming and diving as a sport with regular-season records, Rider has a lot of success since the program was founded in 1969 (1985 for the women).

Despite starting out with a combined 18-30 record in the first four years, the program has earned a reputation as one of the best programs in the region since starting under Head Coach Richard Coppola. The program has a combined 450 wins heading into this season and has become the standard for swimming and diving success in the MAAC under the leadership of head coach Stephen Fletcher.

Since 2002, the program has won a total of eight MAAC Championships (six for the men and two for the women) and an ECAC Championship.

Swimming and diving is enjoying arguably its most successful run, with the men winning five straight MAAC titles and the women finishing in the top 3 in recent years. The way things are, Fletcher doesn’t expect this program to slow down anytime soon.

 2. Field Hockey: 369-287-23 (.560 win percentage)

The sport debuted at Rider in 1979 with Fran Menard leading the group to a 4-4-2 record when the team finished as runner-up of the New Jersey Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (NJAIAW).

For the longest span of years in field hockey, the program was playing in the NEC. During that time, from 1998 to 2012, the program received many accolades and awards, including four Coach of the Year awards, five Player of the Year awards, seven Rookie of the Year awards and 33 NEC First Team mentions.

The program’s already successful run got even better when current head coach Lori Hussong took the job from Tricia Carroll in 2000. Hussong, in her first year as head coach, led the program to its first NEC Championship.

The team maintained its winning ways in the following years in the NEC, winning seven regular-season championships and seeing no losing seasons after her first year as coach.

While the team left the NEC in 2013 to join the MAAC, it did not slow down. In the three years the Rider field hockey has played in the MAAC, it has made the postseason three times and posted a 36-23 record.

1. Wrestling: 511-276-2 (.649 win percentage)

While many sports compete more times per season than college wrestling, Rider’s program exemplifies the school’s athletic success.

With more than 14 Rider Hall of Famers coming from wrestling, it also has enjoyed a level of organizational stability that few schools can attain. In almost 50 years of existence, the wrestling program only had two coaches —  program founder and National Wrestling Hall of Famer Barry Burtnett and current head coach Gary Taylor.

Both men turned the wrestling program into a nationally recognized program, having been ranked as high 10th in the nation last season.

The team earned its recognition as one of Rider’s strongest programs and as the sport with the highest winning percentage in Rider history.

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