Broncs beat by Princeton; bounce back in MAAC play

By Jake Tiger and Andrew Smolar

Following a nine-game road trip that made stops in Utah, Pennsylvania and Maryland, Rider women’s volleyball emerged with a 2-7 record, but a wealth of valuable experience. In their return

to New Jersey, the Broncs added one more loss at the hands of Princeton on Sept. 14, but began Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) play on a strong note with a win against Saint Peter’s on Sept. 17.

‘Growing up to do’

The Battle of 206 was reinstated on Sept. 14, as Rider took on the Princeton Tigers for the first time in just over 15 years. However, the celebrated match did not offer quite as much in the way of competition, with the Tigers outclassing the Broncs 3-1.

“A little bit of a rollercoaster,” said Head Coach Jeffrey Rotondo. “We started to slow some things down in the second as far as their offense goes, but we just couldn’t carry any of that momentum into the third and fourth set.”

The first two sets were incredibly competitive, with the two teams often trading points and the defenses leaving little room for rallying. The Broncs were able to squeak out a win in the second set, claiming a hard- fought 25-23 victory that was truly a team effort.

One common theme through all four sets was the undeniable power of senior opposite Morgan Romano. Princeton consistently struggled to corral her attacks, with them often bouncing off defenders and deep into the stands. Romano finished the match with 15 kills to lead all players.

“I feel like the team fought back really well in the second set and we held our own, but I think this team really exposed some of our weaknesses,” said senior libero Pamela Loh.

While Rider leaned on Romano, Princeton’s key to victory was frustratingly elite ball placement. Many of the Tiger’s points went untouched by Rider, landing right in the dead zone of the defense.

“I think our blocking defense in practice yesterday was very pedestrian, very average,” said Rotondo. “We just weren’t really dialed in yesterday and that came back to haunt us tonight.”

Loh repeatedly found herself diving for Princeton’s attacks, only for the ball to land right at the tip of her outstretched arm. Loh had 17 digs in the match.

“We have a lot of growing up to do… maturity on the court,” said Rotondo. “To Princeton’s credit, they found pretty much every hole in our block.”

With their final non-conference contest out of the way and some evident issues to patch up, the Broncs looked to make some last minute adjustments before the exhilerating and stressful gauntlet that is MAAC play.

“It’s gonna be interesting,” said Rotondo. “I think we have a lot of work to do to put ourselves in position to be in that final match.”

‘We need to be tougher’

Volleyball opened the conference portion of their schedule with a victory over Saint Peter’s. It was also the first home game of the year for the Broncs.

Despite losing the first set, Rider was able to rally and win the next three, taking the game three sets to one.

The first set was a series of ups and downs. Despite allowing Saint Peter’s to score six consecutive points, Rider found themselves in position to win with a 23-22 lead. However, three straight points by the Peacocks gave the first set to Saint Peter’s.

That would be the only setback of the afternoon for Rider. The second set was a much different story. The Broncs won the set 25-13 and ended the set with five-unanswered points.

Going into the third set, things continued to move smoothly. The Broncs opened up a sizable lead on the strength of a 9-0 run that gave Rider a 12-5 lead. Despite letting the Peacocks rally to tie the game at 22, the Broncs were able to hold on and win the third set 25-23.

Despite winning the set, Head Coach Jeff Rotondo wants to see a little more poise out of his team in those situations.

“We need to be tougher and more determined in those situations,” Rotondo said. “It comes down to execution and panic, with the latter one being our default mode right now which needs to change.”

The fourth set started off poorly for Rider. Saint Peter’s scored the first four points of the set and held the lead for most of the set. However, Rider would not allow the game to go to a decisive fifth set. The Broncs closed the fourth set and clinched the victory with nine points in a row, winning the set 25-16.

Rider ended the game with an edge in a number of key team statistics. The Broncs had 57 kills compared to 36 for Saint Peter’s. Rider also held a sizable edge in hitting percentage with .286 compared to .130 for the Peacocks. Lastly, the Broncs held a sizable edge in assists with 54 of their own compared to 34 for Saint Peter’s.

Despite the advantage in some key statistics, Rotondo would like to see more discipline and resilience out of his team. “Overall our offense is sluggish and our block and defensive schemes are average to below average,” Rotondo said. “If we want to be anywhere near the top 3-4 teams in this conference in late November, then we need to be tougher, more disciplined, and resilient.”

Rider will continue MAAC play next Saturday in a road matchup with the Iona Gaels.

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