2016 Outlook

Courtesy: Rider Sports Information
         
Release: August 24, 2016
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Courtesy: Brian David Solomon (Rider University)

Rider Field Hockey – 2016 Outlook

Like the sun coming up in the east, the Rider University field hockey team qualifying for the playoffs is another thing in life that you can just count on.

Like clockwork, the Bronc field hockey squad has qualified for the four-team conference playoffs; a streak that has spanned 16 seasons, all under head coach Lori Hussong and husband, assistant coach Dan Hussong.

As always, the key ingredients will be hard work, commitment, dedication and chemistry as the program looks for its 17th straight trip to the post season.

“We are extremely excited to welcome in 11 newcomers to add to a very hardworking and committed group of 10 letterwinners,” said Lori Hussong who enters the season with 220 career wins.  “We feel we have an exceptional group of veterans who exemplify what Rider field hockey is all about and who we can depend on to provide leadership and guidance for our young team.  We also have several newcomers who are gifted with exceptional skill who we feel can help raise our level of play.”

Leading the returnees are two preseason All-MAAC performers, senior Carlota Alsina and junior Allison Baligian.

Alsina is a 57-game veteran, having made 55 starts.  A MAAC All-Academic honoree, Alsina started all 19 games as a junior and she enters her senior season 23rd all-time on Rider’s career scoring list.

“Carlota came into the preseason ready to go,” Lori Hussong said.  “She is a very skilled defender who we will depend on to steady a very young defense.  We will look for her to continue to be a leader by example with her outstanding play.”

A First Team All-MAAC honoree, Alsina finished seventh in the conference averaging 1.00 points per game and she was third in the MAAC with seven assists and was 10th in the conference with six goals while ranking fifth in the MAAC with three defensive saves.

Baligian was a MAAC All-Academic honoree as a sophomore and she enters her junior season 24th on Rider’s all-time career scoring list.

“Ally is our top returning scorer,” said Dan Hussong.  “She has great leadership skills.  She is a 100 percent ‘hustle kid’ and is just dynamic on the offensive end of the field.  The way she plays is contagious.”

In 2015, Baligian earned First Team All-MAAC honors after leading the conference in shots (62) and game-winning goals (four) while ranking second in the MAAC with 13 goals and 27 points while making 19 starts.

Other members of the senior class include Kalyn O'Brien and Carlie Spaeder.

O’Brien is a two-time MAAC All-Academic honoree and the 59-game veteran started all 19 games as a junior with two goals including a game-winner.

“KK is one of those players who lives and breathes Rider Field Hockey,” Lori Hussong said.  “She is always thirsty to learn and improve.  Everything about her is team first; her hunger to improve, her work ethic on the field and the type of teammate she is off the field.  That commitment shows her determination and gives our team and herself the best chance at success.  She always puts others first.  You can’t teach those intangibles.  Her selection to the USFHA Women’s High Performance Training and Tournament team this past summer shows that she is totally committed to her game.”

Spaeder begins the 2016 season 28th on Rider’s all-time scoring list with 42 points.  As a junior she earned Second Team All-MAAC honors after finishing third in the MAAC in points (26) and shots (56) and fourth in the conference with 10 goals in 19 games.

“Carlie has had a good start to the preseason,” said Lori Hussong.  “She has worked hard to improve her skills and she will continue to be a force to be reckoned with.  She is playing with confidence and speed and when she does that, she is hard to stop.”

“We can see the urgency in the back of the minds of this senior class,” Lori Hussong added.  “As much success as the program has had, our last regular season MAAC title was 2013 when this group was freshmen and we haven’t made the NCAA Play-In game since 2012.  We’ve had some sustained success but now we have to finish as strong as possible to reach our goal of coming out victorious at the end of the season.  They (the seniors) are very much aware that is their last chance.”

Returning with Baligian as juniors are Lauren Bock, Melissa Cunningham (redshirt junior), Kesheal Henderson and Shannon Hughes.

Bock appeared in eight games, all off the bench as a sophomore with a goal and an assist in 2015.

“It’s been great to see Lauren healthy for the start of her junior year,” Lori Hussong said.  “She has had to overcome injuries her freshman and sophomore seasons and has worked hard rehabbing throughout the summer get back to the top of her game.”

Melissa Cunningham started all 19 games in 2015 and enters her junior season as a 38-game veteran.

“Melissa is playing with confidence and poise,” said Lori Hussong.  “She is reading the play well and doing an excellent job of protecting the middle of the field.”

Kesheal appeared in all 19 games (13 starts) as a sophomore, helping to anchor the Bronc defense and she was 10th nationally and third in the MAAC with five defensive saves.  This season, Henderson is expected to also see time as a forward.

“Kesh is gifted with speed and tenacity,” Dan Hussong said.  “She stirs up the game for us and gives us up tempo and transition.  She beats people to the ball but can also recover on defense.  She has a really high ceiling for us and we expect her to play multiple positions, depending on the opponent and matchups.”

Hughes is a MAAC All-Academic honoree who as a sophomore, appeared in all 19 games and scored four goals.

“Shannon has come on strong and is playing with confidence,” Lori Hussong said.  “She is in great condition and is playing her game.  She has strong stick skills and we expect big things from her this year.  She is one of our most improved players.”

Rounding out the returnees is the sophomore class of Alison Amen and Jessica Randazzo

Amen appeared in five games as a Rider rookie, all off the bench.

“Alison is coming on strong,” Dan Hussong said.  “She is also one of our most improved players.  She is playing with confidence and is playing with a boldness that shows a jump from her rookie season to this, her sophomore year.  She plays well in transition and excels in our aggressive style of play.”

Randazzo appeared in all 19 games, making 18 starts as a freshman and was named Second Team All-MAAC after finishing 10th in the conference with four assists.

“Jess is having a fabulous start to 2016 after a solid rookie campaign,” Lori Hussong said.  “She has come back stronger and possesses good vision and skill.  With a year of experience under her belt we expect her to have a great season for us.”

“Our best teams have been that 50-50 mix of skilled players and what we call the blue collar ‘worker bees’,” Dan Hussong added.  “You need players that will do anything for the team and play selfless.  That’s the winning mix for us but it has to be cultivated.  .  It’s hard to get that every single year.”

The newcomers include a graduate transfer, Leigh Maxwell-Smith.

Maxwell-Smith is a three-time NFHCA Scholar Athlete and three-time Colonial Athletic Association Commissioner’s Academic Award recipient, earning a degree in Marketing as a 52-game veteran at Hofstra University.

“We will look to Leigh to help raise the level of our game,” Lori Hussong said.  “Her skill package and knowledge of the game will help our team out in the toughest of situations.   “Having her help direct our defense on the field will be like having a third coach,” Dan Hussong added.

The newcomers include Heili Carpino, Tess Coorens, Victoria Cunningham, Jade Freeberg, Daane Koch, Alice Otterson and Frankie Pignataro and rookie goalies Voirrey Baker, Emily Gilligan and Grace Huff.

“This group coming in, they are talented and skilled and have been hard working,” Lori Hussong said.  “It’s just an outstanding group.  They want to work hard to get better.  We always recruit character first.  We can develop their skill but we look for student-athletes that put the team success before their own and are there for each other, both on and off the field.  We need a strong cohesiveness to be successful and this season’s group has already bought into the team first mentality.”

With the graduation of 71-game veteran Joelle Prettyman between the pipes, the goalkeeping position will be a wide open competition.

“There is an opportunity for all three,” Dan Hussong said about the goalies.  “All are working hard.  Our favorite is the one who gets the job done.  We are looking for a leader who is a freshman and that’s unique but it is something we have been successful with in the past.  We want fierce completion every day and want them to challenge each other.  We had a need for new goaltending and pursued it all across the globe.  We feel good about who we brought in.”

“We have a comfortable, hardworking and energetic environment,” Lori Hussong said about the dynamic surrounding the team.  “We have student-athletes from all around the world, who bring various styles of play to the program.  With that said, the common trait is that they are all willing to learn and adapt and embrace the values of the program.  We feel we have enough talent to make a run at our 17th playoff appearance.  The non-conference schedule we put together gives us a chance to grow together, learn from each other and get stronger and stronger.”

“Competition in the lineup is wide open,” Dan Hussong added.  “We want the team to play for the name on the front of the jersey.  That attitude allows you to survive injuries and illness as you battle and compete for a championship.”

Defending 2015 MAAC champion Fairfield (48 points) received six of seven first place votes and was picked to win the conference title, followed by Monmouth (42 points, one first place vote) and Rider (35 points). 

Sacred Heart was picked fourth, followed by Siena, Bryant and conference newcomer, first year program LIU Brooklyn.

Rider opens at Lehigh on August 26 and the home opener on Ben Cohen Field is September 2 against Georgetown.  The conference opener is October 7 at Fairfield.  The MAAC playoffs will be hosted by the highest finishing full MAAC member in the regular season standings and will take place November 4-6.

“We are excited to welcome LIU Brooklyn into the conference,” said Lori Hussong who will play the Blackbirds on October 20.  “The general play in the MAAC is getting better and better each year and the league is very competitive.  There are no sure fire wins and on any given day, any team in the conference is capable beating each other.

What is sure fire is the opportunity for the Rider field hockey team to be in the mix for a 17th straight playoff appearance. 

As sure fire as the sun coming up in the east.

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