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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Rider field hockey wins third straight NEC crown


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 rebuilding year.”

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 pressure situation.

“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.”


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