Rider poised for success in conference play

By Dylan Manfre

Rider field hockey has played five games in the 2021 fall season, and Head Coach Lori Hussong said the team is now in the “emerging” phase of the season. The roster is composed of a young group that Hussong recruited for the future and an offensive-heavy set of upperclassmen.

The usual suspects of seniors, including Carly Brosious, Julia Divorra and Tess van Ommeren, have led the offense stronghold to a 4-1 record and outscored its opponents 13-7. Divorra was last season’s Northeast Conference (NEC) Player of the Year and now leads the conference in goals with six. Brosious is in third with three.

The Broncs’ most recent wins came against Towson and Georgetown, who did not play in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. van Ommeren and senior midfielder Kat Conroy were responsible for the goals in the 2-1 victory over Georgetown.

Each goal came off a penalty corner — something Rider has placed a heavy emphasis on dating back to late last season.

“I think the ball is getting hit down a little bit faster and [van Ommeren] was able to deflect it up a little bit better, and our passing off of plays and our shots were on target,” Hussong said after the Georgetown win. “We practiced a lot this week and put in the extra work to make sure we can execute better.”

Freshman beginning to impress

Hussong wishes she had more stability in her lineup. Coming into the season without defenders Kaitlyn Flemming and Brittany Romanczuk, who graduated in May, forced Hussong to revamp the defense.

She speculated that a different lineup has been used in all five games. They are still trying to find out what works for Rider. Some parts of the experiment have worked and others have not, with players such as freshman Alyssa Hoffman being shuffled in and out.

“I wish we had a set formation that we could rely on,” Hussong said.

Hussong can rely on the strong play of freshman midfielder Abby Hartwell. Hartwell has been a regular starter and contributed three goals and six points for the season. She has taken after Brosious and admires her work ethic.

“She puts everything on the line. She’s always trying her hardest,” Hartwell said. “I think as a player … that’s amazing to have a visual to watch to keep going.”

Freshman Lyric Scott, who is also Hartwell’s roommate, seems to be Hartwell’s complement, similar to how Divorra and Brosious developed into a 1-2 punch. Hartwell and Scott traded quick one-touch passes in the Georgetown game, which riled up the crowd because of their agility and field vision.

Hartwell believes the only thing stopping her and Scott from evolving into what Brosious and Divorra are now is time. They have six games together while Brosious and Divorra are going into their fourth season at Rider.

“It always takes time, but I think our chemistry is really well, and I think we definitely have the potential to get there,” Hartwell said.

Brosious said she was proud of Hartwell and the other freshmen in a phone interview with The Rider News earlier in the week. She agreed that the freshmen class reminds her of her now senior teammates when they were newcomers.

A familiar foe

When the schedule came out and Rider was playing Towson, the team thought of it as just another game.

However, there was something special about this matchup. Former Bronc Lena Vandam was in the goal.

Vandam, a one-time Goalkeeper of the Year, one- time Co-Goalkeeper of the Year and arguably one of the best netminders to ever play for Rider, left for Towson as a graduate transfer to pursue her Master’s degree. When the pandemic struck, it was unclear if the reunion game would ever happen.

The Rider-Towson game was played on Sept. 12, and the Broncs got three goals past their former teammate in a Rider 3-2 overtime victory. Vandam finished the game with 11 saves.

Divorra scored twice, and sophomore forward Josefina Golppi recorded her first career goal.

Vandam’s impact on the program is immeasurable. Dan Hussong, who worked with Vandam during her three years in Lawrenceville, told then backup goalkeeper, Kaitlyn Tomas, to mimic what Vandam does.

“She’s aggressive, which is a plus,” Dan Hussong said of Vandam. “You got to be careful with an aggressive goalie. If you can get them to go down, then they’re vulnerable, but if they go down and get the ball, they’re great. And she is very good at that.”

Lingering Injury

A big part of the Rider offense is missing from the spring 2021 roster.

Junior midfielder Sierra Giuliano has not played a game this season because of an injury sustained in a preseason summer league game.

“I got hit with a field hockey ball two days before preseason,” Giuliano said in a phone interview.

Lori Hussong said it will keep Giuliano out two to four weeks on Aug. 29.

Four weeks from Aug. 29 is Sept. 26. The two-week mark was on Sept. 12. She did not play in Rider’s game against Towson.

“We’re coming up to the end of my recovery but it’s definitely been a long process,” Giuliano said.

Giuliano was a Second-Team All-NEC last season and led the Broncs in assists with five. She was not on the sidelines at all when Rider played Georgetown on Sept. 10.

She is hoping to make her season debut at the start of conference play when Rider plays Merrimack on Oct. 1.

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