PREVIEW: Rider looking to turn heads in 2024

By Kadie Digiuseppe

Spring is right around the corner, which means it’s time for a new season of Rider softball. The team will begin their season on Feb. 23 in East Carolina for their weekend tournament. 

Coming off of last year’s 19-31 season and welcoming in eight freshmen and transfers, the Broncs are ready to get rolling with their new squad. 

“Something our team is focusing on as [a] whole is our confidence in everything we do. We want to be the team that walks out on the field exemplifying that fine line between confidence and arrogance,” said senior pitcher Anna-Marie Groskritz. 

Baby Broncs

After Chaela Crowder graduated last year, Rider welcomed two freshmen catchers: Abby Cruz and Kendall Reda-Fehsal along with returning junior catcher Kristyn Gardner. 

The catchers are also joined by three new freshmen infielders; Kayley York, Olivia Smith and Kiersten Buchanan and two freshmen outfielders, Shelby Dyer and Tristen Wren. 

Junior infielders Olivia Burroughs commented on the new Broncs for this season, saying: “We have a lot of young talent this year and I’m super excited to see how they step up and contribute.”

Returning Broncs

Along with all of the additions, the Broncs have many returners, including Head Coach Davon Ortega, who will coach her sixth season with the Broncs. 

“We are most looking forward to seeing how the season unfolds as this team continues to grow together,” said Ortega. “We have a lot of younger players competing for starting positions right now so it will be exciting to see how that youth can leverage our experienced returners.” 

However, all eyes are on two-time Preseason All MAAC First Team selection, senior pitcher Jessie Niegocki who has 255 strikeouts in 61 appearances. 

Niegocki turned heads last season after her no-hitter into the seventh inning, before settling for a complete game, only giving up one hit shutout with 10 strikeouts in a win against Manhattan. 

Niegocki also had a career high of 13 strikeouts in a game last season over Morgan State while scoring a run and going 2-for-3 at bat. 

Not only was her pitching on fire, but so was her batting last season. Niegocki had the team’s best average with a .333, 32 runs and a .413 on-base percentage. 

Groskritz is ready to get back on the mound this season for the Broncs after missing last season due to injury. 

“I’m most looking forward to the excitement of games. The energy this team brings during games is amazing,” said Groskrtiz. “We all get so excited for each other’s successes. It’s a really fun environment to be around.” 

During her 2022 season, Groskritz was rolling. She pitched multiple complete game shutouts and had two games with a career high nine strikeouts. 

The Broncs will also welcome back some of their most consistent power hitters in senior outfielder Laneya Wright and Burroughs. 

“I’m most looking forward to just playing games with my teammates,” said Burroughs.

“We have been practicing together since September, so I’m looking forward to seeing all the pieces come together once we’re all able to be on the field competing together,” she added. 

‘I feel the team is ready’

Wright had 10 multi-hit games last season including a two-run home run that scored the game tying run over Marist in game one. 

“I’m most looking forward to getting on the field against other teams. We have put in a lot of work over the past few weeks and I’m excited to see how the team does this next weekend,” Wright said. “I feel the team is ready to start playing games to see how we can improve from there.”

Wright also commented on what the Broncs intend to improve on up at bat. 

“Something individually and collectively we should improve in the most is doing our job at [the] plate. Having quality at bats to move runner and consistently score runs,” she said. 

Burroughs started all but one game for the Broncs last season and hit 19 doubles which tied for the most in NCAA Division I.

Graduate student outfielder Amanda Cooper is no stranger to playing for the Broncs since this will be her fifth season with the team. Though Cooper missed most of her freshman year due to COVID-19 and her sophomore year due to injury, she has been a consistent hitter for the Broncs during her junior and senior season. 

The Broncs picked up junior outfielder Asiah Bell from Central Arizona over the offseason. Bell will bring another big bat to the team after slugging .557 and averaging .460 last season. 

Back on the squad is one of the Broncs’ closing pitchers, junior Kathryn Schmierer, who had 62 strikeouts last season. 

Another returning pitcher for the Broncs is sophomore pitcher Jadeyn Merrill who not only pitches, but is dominant at the plate. Last season Merrill had eight multi-hit games, seven doubles, three home runs, 24 RBIs and 16 runs scored in 44 games played. 

On the defensive side of things, sophomores Fallyn Stoeckel and Maddie Luedtke and Julia Harsche return in the outfield for Rider.

The upcoming season

Last season, Rider was 5-16 during away games but 9-11 in conference games and 9-6 at home. 

“One thing I think we can improve on from last year is that competitive aspect that we have been developing through the fall and early this spring,” said Burroughs. “This team and group of girls really loves to compete and win, so that aspect will be a big improvement from last year.” 

To start this season, the Broncs have three upcoming tournaments. They will travel to Greenville, North Carolina, to play against Towson, North Carolina Central University and East Carolina University from Feb. 23-25. 

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