Volleyball Turns 40– 20th season in the MAAC
40-20 vision. You don’t have to be perfect to have your eye on the prize; you just have to work hard to get there.
As the Rider University volleyball team turns 40 this season, the team enters its 20th Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference campaign with two goals in mind; one match at a time and finish strong.
Putting this vision into focus will be sixth year head coach Christopher Feliciano who has led the team to 59 wins since 2012, 21 victories in conference play in the past two seasons and Rider is 16-5 at home since 2014.
In 2015, Rider opened conference play 7-0 and spent the majority of the season in first place, qualifying for the MAAC playoffs for the first time since 2004.
“We are excited,” said Feliciano who received votes in the MAAC Coach of the Year balloting last season. “We return 10 players that had a good amount of experience last season, which culminated in the MAAC playoff run.”
A 2016 Preseason All-MAAC selection, Griffin enters her senior year as a 96-match veteran and is already eighth on the Rider career kill list with 886.
“Kaitlyn is a high-level middle that scores a lot of points and does multiple things,” Feliciano said. “She can score with her serve, offensively in transition and on defense while blocking.”
The 2013 MAAC Rookie of the Year, Griffin earned All-MAAC Second Team honors for the second year in a row after appearing in all 130 sets as a junior. Griffin led the squad with 418 points and 36 service aces and led the MAAC with 129 blocks including 19 solo.
Riede was the 2015 MAAC Rookie of the Year after appearing in all 33 matches while leading Rider with 332 kills and 369 points.
“We are looking for Hailey to take the next step as a Division I volleyball player,” Feliciano said. “She hits high and blocks high. How fast she gets to the ball both offensively and defensively will dictate how successful her season will be.”
“Having two of the last three conference Rookies of the Year is nice,” Feliciano said. “But we are not a team that relies on one person. We need everyone, from the starters to the role players.”
Ackermann enters her senior season as a veteran of 96 matches and enters 2016 10th on Rider's all-time kill list with 827. A two-time MAAC All-Academic honoree, Ackermann played in all 130 sets as a junior and was second on the team with 328 digs.
“Ryan is a level one type of player and a top outside hitter,” said Feliciano. “She has good ball control, is smart offensively and can score out of system.”
Aldaya had a break-out sophomore season and enters 2016 ninth all-time in digs at Rider with 1,157. A MAAC All-Academic honoree, Aldaya played in all 130 sets in 2015 and led the MAAC with 634 digs, the most ever in a single season at Rider.
“I believe that Emma can be one of the top liberos in our conference and we look for her to make strides to improve on last season,” said Feliciano. “She is a hard worker and puts in a diligent effort.”
As a sophomore, Borio was named to the MAAC All-Academic team and played in 26 matches (105 sets) in 2015 while compiling 201 kills and 219 points.
“Jennifer can side-out in multiple locations,” Feliciano said. “She will play at both pins this year.”
Koval appeared in all 33 matches (130 sets) as a sophomore and was 10th in the MAAC averaging 5.34 assists per set, while compiling 694 assists for the season.
“Veronica is the quarterback for our offense,” said Feliciano. “She is very fast from pin to pin and plays above average defense. She has the ability to make a lot of plays, whether it is setting, tipping or dumping the ball.”
Fick appeared in 30 matches, playing 104 sets as a Rider rookie and averaged 1.12 kills per set (116 kills total) and 1.10 digs per set (114 digs total).
“Kristin has solid ball control,” said Feliciano. “She is great defensively with her communication and we are looking for her to improve on a very good freshman season.”
Logan appeared in 39 sets (14 matches) as a Rider rookie with 66 points and 12 blocks before an ACL injury ended her season.
“We are excited to get Savannah back,” Feliciano said.
Smith appeared in 28 matches (99 sets) as a Rider rookie and compiled 207 digs and 17 service aces.
“McKenna is fearless,” Feliciano said. “She sets the example of how defense should be played in our gym. There isn’t a ball that is hit that she won’t give 100 percent for. We are looking for her to be a role model for the rest of our defenders.”
Williams appeared in 22 matches (42 sets) as a Rider rookie and had 20 blocks for the season.
“Perry is long and athletic and she plays smart,” said Feliciano. “We are excited with a year of experience under her belt what she can add to the team. She is good at closing from block to block.”
“The returnees are very good athletes,” Feliciano added. “They are talented. They know the system already so with such a large group of letterwinners, we can hit the ground running more so than in past seasons. They have playoff experience and now it’s about finishing strong and staying healthy and ultimately having the vision of who we want to be.”
Feliciano is hoping the five newcomers also share in the vision to help bring Rider a MAAC championship.
“The newcomers are going to have a vital role in helping the team develop and be competitive,” Feliciano said.
Guzman is a 6-1 middle hitter who played 86 matches at St. John’s in New York.
“We are very excited to see what the translation of Briana’s numbers from the BIG EAST to the MAAC will be,” said Feliciano. “She blocks fast from pin to pin and hits high.”
A 5-11 setter from Corona, California, Holland was a two-time team captain at Santiago High School, compiling 168 assists, 74 digs, 46 kills, 33 aces and eight blocks as a senior.
“Devyn has tremendous upside,” said Feliciano. “She exudes a positive and winning attitude and brings a ton of energy. We look for her to get better every day.”
A 5-4 defensive specialist from Aliso Viejo, California, Runyon had 244 digs and 29 assists in 82 sets in 2015 at Aliso Niguel High School.
“Rachelle is a ball hawk who has a great first touch and covers a lot of ground quickly,” said Feliciano. “She will compete at the defensive specialist and libero positions.”
From Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, Shanefield is a 6-2 middle blocker who led Upper Darby High School in kills, blocks, and aces, earning team most valuable player honors as a senior.
“Evelyn is a tall, physical presence in the middle and strong on the block from pin to pin,” Feliciano said. We are intrigued to see what she will add to our program.”
From Long Valley, New Jersey, Shello earned Second Team All-State, First Team All-County and First Team All-Conference honors as a 6-1 middle hitter, helping West Morris Central High School to the county title.
“We will be training Alexa to convert to the right-side and outside hitter positions,” said Feliciano. “She has a high volleyball I.Q. and is a great teammate.”
“We will develop the newcomers and give them as much information early on so they can quickly get up to speed and grow with the program,” Feliciano added. “We’ve been focusing on player development in the program. If everyone takes those steps, we will have a successful season.”
“40 years is still kind of young for a program,” said Feliciano. “It’s exciting how many milestones that are within reach for this team. For year number 40 for the program, it would be a neat thing to reach some of those all-time marks and there would be no better way to tie out the past successes of the program (three NCAA Play-In matches, one NCAA appearance) to the current squad than to etch their name into the record books as one of the top Rider volleyball squads in program history. Our goal, our ultimate vision is a MAAC Championship.”
In the MAAC preseason poll, Rider was picked to finish tied for fourth (with Manhattan) in voting by the league’s head coaches with Fairfield, Siena and Marist picked for the top three spots.
“We need to be a productive program that works hard,” Feliciano said. “If we do that, we will be fine. The parity in the conference is always an interesting dynamic. The MAAC isn’t always the same top four teams anymore. There are some very talented players coming into the conference and the RPI keeps improving year over year. We have to take care of business when it comes time. Last season, we showed that we are relevant and can play the game the right way. Toward the end of the year, we got hit by the injury bug and teams made some adjustments to what we were doing. We now need to make adjustments and grow off the 21 conference wins over the last two seasons because it’s not how you start, it is how you finish.”
In year 40, keeping the goals of a successful 20th MAAC season in sight, in the eyes of Rider volleyball for 2016, it is all about the 40-20 vision.