Rider bounced in MAAC Tournament semifinals

By Hannah Newman

Rider volleyball took their season to Lake Buena Vista, Florida, for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Tournament, and with a 7-11 record in conference play, the Broncs entered as the seventh seed, determined to make a run at the title.

Rider managed to earn a ticket to the semifinals by beating No. 10 Manhattan and sweeping No. 2 Marist, but ultimately fell in four sets to No. 6 Quinnipiac, the tournament’s eventual champions.

“We know the No. 7 seed was not a true reflection of how good we were, or how good we can be moving forward,” said Head Coach Jeff Rotondo during the tournament. “Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things we need to clean up on the court and off the court, but foundationally our athleticism is better than this program has had for a long time.”

In the opening game of the tournament off the serve of sophomore middle hitter Carley McAleavey, the Broncs dove into a 7-2 lead with a 5-0 run, which was followed by a final set of 25-10. Throughout
the second set, the Broncs’ dominance remained consistent with a 7-1 run and two kills courtesy of McAleavey. With a 16-12 lead, the Broncs continued to sustain a strong run of 6-0 with another two kills and a block by senior middle hitter Morgan Koch which handed them the win for this set.

After the Jaspers attempted to match the Broncs winning energy in the third set, Rider came out of their first game of the tournament successful with a tight win of 25-21,ss which earned them a spot in the quarter finals.

“I think for us we saw consistency in our energy and focus. This is something we battled throughout the year, some of it due to dealing with 16 players in and out of the lineup due to COVID-19, concussions and injuries,” said Rotondo. “It was hard to find a groove, but I felt we were able to mesh a lot more down in Florida as we were relatively healthy for the first time in a while. That helped us be more consistent offensively and defensively, as we competed great on the court in a lot of moments, and the sidelines were really instrumental in helping us maintain that energy.”

The Broncs got out to a 11-5 lead in the early parts of their quarterfinal match against Marist, and built up enough momentum to carry them through the rest of the opening set. With back-to-back kills from Koch, the Broncs took the first set 25-15 and let their errorless start keep them fired up for their second set.

Rider again took the lead early, going up 5-1, although this time, Marist vigorously came back to tie the set at 6-6. This comeback energy drained after the Broncs went on a 5-0 run off the serve of senior libero Pamela Loh. While the Broncs were back in the lead with a score of 13-10, Rider closed the second set at 25-19.

Wrapping up the game in the third set with the help of junior setter Julia Slivka, who made three- straight aces and two kills from senior opposite hitter Morgan Romano and senior outside hitter Jenna Amaro, the Broncs secured their spot in the semifinals with a 25-15 win against Marist.

“I think the team was most confident in each other’s ability on and off of the court. We knew we had to come out strong and play our game with confidence. We had nothing to lose, so going out and giving it our all and staying aggressive was the only way we were going to win games,” said Romano. “Our bench in the three games was super supportive and very energetic, which helped translate our energy on the court. In the game against Marist, all of our hitters were on, which was what we really needed.”

While the Broncs faced the semifinals with back- to-back wins behind them, it was not enough to put them in the finals as Rider surrendered their season to Quinnipiac with a 25-11 set that determined their fate.

“We lost 24-26 and 26-28 in the first two sets versus Quinnipiac in the semifinals. Had we come away with a victory in one or both of those sets, I think we are in a really good spot to move on to the finals,” said Rotondo. “We had opportunities to capitalize on some miscues by Quinnipiac, but were unable to finish in those situations.”

Although the end to the season was heartbreaking, having been a match away from the finals, the Broncs still used this experience as a milestone in their career and an outlet to develop more in depth connections with one another as they continue to strengthen themselves as a team.

“I think the team connected very well in Florida and formed some bonds that maybe were not fully attached yet,” said Rotondo. “It was great to see the love and joy they played with and had for one another through the journey down there.”

With the finalization of a long 2022 season, Romano led the Broncs in kills with 353, leading in assists was Slivka with 529, leading in service aces was Romano with 31, leading in digs was senior libero Alicia Iafrate with 237 and leading in blocks was McAleavey with 55.

As Romano reflected on her last games as a Bronc, she was sure to take note of the real reason her and her teammates took the court with pride.

“We came into this tournament and knew that we were going to be in for some tough matches, and we handled it well but had some dips in energy, said Romano. “We were able to come out strong and play together because we knew the only way we were going to win games is by playing together and playing for the people around us.”

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