LAWRENCEVILLE — Back in preseason camp, if you asked Rider
field hockey coach Lori Hussong what to expect from her team, she would have
struggled to find an answer.
Fast forward to a chilly November Saturday and Hussong once
again had a smile on her face while Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” blared
over the loudspeaker at Ben Cohen Field.
Behind a pair of Sandra Penas goals, the Broncs rallied in
the second half to down Monmouth, 3-2, claiming their third consecutive
Northeast Conference championship.
“These kids came together at the right time and believed in
themselves,” Hussong said. “They didn’t want to be the team that broke the
tradition we had here at Rider and they fought hard and got the job done.”
All three of those championship victories have come over
Monmouth, which hasn’t beat Rider since the semifinals in 2009.
“I’m really proud of this group,” Hussong said. “We’re so
young because we lost so much to graduation. We lost arguably the best player
in Northeast Conference history in Virginia (Egusquiza) and we didn’t really
know what our future was going to be. We probably thought it was going to be a
So much for that.
Led by Penas, the league leader in goals, Rider overcame a
slow start to claim the top seed in the conference tournament on the final day
of the regular season by beating the Hawks.
But this wasn’t going to be like the meeting of a week ago
when the Broncs knocked five past Monmouth is West Long Branch.
Allison Muschs (the goal was originally credited to Gabby Burgo before it was later changed) gave Rider (14-5) a first-half lead when her
shot deflected off the stick of a Monmouth defender in the 29th minute.
The Hawks (8-13) regrouped forcing the Broncs back in the
early exchanges of the second half before grabbing a deserved lead with two
tallies in less than seven minutes.
First, Amanda Schonenfeld tapped in a rebound to even the
score followed by Alex Carroll’s low shot from a penalty corner that beat Rider
goalie Joelle Prettyman.
Needing a spark, Hussong called timeout.
“We knew we needed to score fast,” said Penas, who then did
what she’s done all year. Deliver.
After Rider was awarded a penalty corner in the 59th minute,
Penas slipped unmarked to the far post, tapping in Eefje Kok's cross.
Four minutes later, the Spaniard took matters into her own
hands. She cut inside two defenders and ripped a backhand shot past Hawks
goalie Teresa Mathews.
“After we scored the first one, we knew we could do it,”
Penas said. “The second just came.”
As for how that second one went in, Penas laughed while
trying to find an explanation.
“I don’t know how I scored that,” said the junior, who
raised her season total to an NEC-best 19 goals. “I put the ball in the goal,
but it was a total team effort.”
For Hussong, she knew her best player would step up in a
“She’s been playing unbelievably the last couple weeks,”
Hussong said. “When we need someone to score, she’s the go-to player for us and
she’s come through for us in many games this year.”
Next up is a return to the NCAA tournament play-in round
against Atlantic-10 champion UMass. Rider is 0-5 all-time in play-in games,
falling to Albany and Princeton the last two years.
“We know we have a mountain to climb when we get to the play-in
game,” Hussong said. “We’re playing against programs that are the elite in the
country, but anything can happen in tournament time. If we’re persistent and we
work hard and we hustle, anything can happen.”