By Thomas Albano
Following games on the road against St. Peter’s and Siena, the women’s soccer team is guaranteed to be either the third or fourth seed in the MAAC Championship tournament.
The Broncs (10-4-2, 5-2-2 MAAC) first went out to Jersey City, N.J. on Oct. 22 and defeated St. Peter’s 2-1 in overtime to secure a spot in the six-team postseason tournament. They then traveled to Loudonville, N.Y. on Oct. 25 to battle Siena, a game that ended in a scoreless tie.
Head Coach Drayson Hounsome felt sealing a spot in the postseason was a weight off of the team’s shoulders.
“It was great that we were able to clinch the playoff spot still with two games left to play, which was a first for the team,” Hounsome said. “This allowed us to make some important rest and recover decisions regarding players going into the Siena match.”
Rider started off on the wrong foot in the playoff-clinching match against the last-place Peacocks (1-17, 1-8 MAAC). Despite outshooting St. Peter’s 13-6, the Broncs could not find the back of the net with seven first period shots.
To make matters worse for Rider, St. Peter’s took a 1-0 lead in the 12th minute following a goal by sophomore forward Ashley Drozd.
Hounsome thought the weather in Jersey City that day played a role in the team’s struggles.
“With the weather conditions being very tough and the field being waterlogged, we didn’t compete as hard as we needed to in the first half or play a style that could be successful given the environment,” Hounsome said.
Things got better for the Broncs in the second half. In the 56th minute, freshman midfielder Ellie Smith scored a goal to tie things up at one. Also, they were able to control the Peacocks’ offense, as only two St. Peter’s shots were taken in the half. No team, however, could find the back of the net again, and the match was forced into overtime.
Twice within the span of a month, Rider allowed own goals in a game. Fifty-two seconds into overtime, however, the Peacocks allowed an own goal when a defender tried to clear the ball brought down the field by sophomore forward Caroline Healy, causing the Broncs to win and be sent to the playoffs in what could only be considered as a case of irony.
Smith credited Healy as being a huge part of the team’s success in the game, both in assisting her goal and influencing the own goal.
“Caroline has been playing fantastically and she certainly has been a great help. Both of the goals against St Peter’s were down to her,” Smith said. “The first one being the assist and the second putting the opposition under so much pressure, leading to a mistake by the opposition.”
Three days later Rider battled Siena (6-6-6, 3-2-4 MAAC) with the mission no longer to gain a spot in the postseason, but to get as high a seeding as possible.
Despite the Broncs’ 22 shots and two corner kicks, the 17 shots and seven corner kicks by the Saints and two overtime periods, the score at the end of the game was 0-0.
Siena’s senior goalkeeper Taylor Booth finished with 11 saves in a full 110 minutes played. Rider had noteworthy goalkeeping of its own from sophomore goalkeeper Bethany-May Howard, who had seven saves and also played the full 110 minutes.
Smith believes the team has performed more than adequately despite losing key players such as junior back Tara Ballay and sophomore forward Michelle Iacono.
“Obviously, losing key players to injury will always affect any team,” Smith said. “However, teams can respond in either a positive or negative way, and we have responded very positively. The strength and depth of the team has meant that players of the same quality have stepped up when needed to and have done a brilliant job, as the results show.”
Which seed Rider is for the postseason tournament, and consequently their first round opponent, will be determined on Oct. 29 when the Broncs host Monmouth (13-4, 8-1 MAAC) and Niagara (9-2-5, 5-1-3 MAAC) hosts Marist (2-10-4, 1-5-3 MAAC). Rider can still become the third seed if they can defeat the Hawks and the Red Foxes can defeat the Purple Eagles. Should Rider make it past the first round, they will then play in a MAAC semifinal on Nov. 7, and possibly the MAAC Championship game on Nov. 9.
The Broncs currently sit in fourth place in the MAAC standings just behind third-place Niagara. While Rider will be unable to obtain a first round bye, won by Monmouth and Fairfield, the win and tie guarantee them home-field advantage for their first round match on Nov. 1.
Hounsome says the team’s focus, no matter what, will be on the MAAC playoffs, while the match with Monmouth takes on a new meaning.
“The sole goal of the team now is on winning the game on Saturday and progressing into the semi-finals of the MAAC tournament for the second consecutive year,” Hounsome said. “The players know when they play well for 90 minutes they can come out on top against any MAAC opponent. The plan for the Monmouth game is to send off our three seniors: [backs] Daisy Allen, Kristen Clarke and Katrina Seidenthal with a great evening while continuing the preparation for Saturday’s contest.”