Men’s College Soccer
LAWRENCEVILLE--In the final non-conference game of the season, the Broncs look ready for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference portion of the schedule, having now won five of their last six games. “Yea, I think we’re ready for MAAC play,” said Rider head coach Russ Fager after the Broncs defeated La Salle Saturday afternoon.
Sophomore Nico Tramontana (Vineland/Sacred Heart) scored two goals, giving him a team-high four goals on the season. “Nico is quite a character,” Fager said. “He is one of the most comical guys we’ve had on the team in years. He has a flamboyant personality and is very gifted technically on the field. He has raised his level dramatically since last year.”
Tramontana received a corner kick from senior Lee Tomasso (Westfield) and scored just 3:27 into the game for a 1-0 lead. “I fanned on one shot earlier, and I did that a few times this year, so I really had to concentrate real hard on that shot,” Tramontana said.
Tramontana scored again with 16 minutes left in the second half to build a 4-0 lead. “I was just trying to get it on goal and maybe someone would deflect it in,” Tramontana said, “but I got under it more than I thought. I took a peak at the net and just flicked it toward the far post. The goalie just barley nipped it and luckily it went in.”
Tomasso had two assists for the Broncs. His cross hit sophomore Kevin Juska (Wall) in the chest, went off a defender and caromed to junior Anthony Gilbert (Jamison, Pa./Central Bucks South), who scored to give Rider a 2-0 lead in the 11th minute of play.
Rider freshman Tom Antonucci (Warrington, Pa./Central Bucks South) came in off the bench and scored his second goal in the last three games on an assist from freshman Andrew Cotes (Selden, N.Y./Newfield) just 41 seconds into the second half.
“Andrew Cotes has to be one of the biggest surprises we’ve had in a long time,” Fager said. “He has tremendous speed, he sees the game well. When I saw him in club ball last year I thought he’d be a nice player for us eventually but I didn’t think he was going to come into it this way and as fast. (Freshman Jim) Bradley (of Sewell/Washington Township) has been playing very solid for us up front. He scored some goals for us early on this year. Antonucci is a good, strong player. He’s playing up front now because that’s where we need him and (freshman Tom) Dunn (of Westampton/Rancocas Valley) missed last year with an injury and is now playing well. When you are playing four or five first-year players and getting these kinds of results, it just means there is more pressure on the upperclassmen to come out and perform.”
Rider junior goalkeeper Randall Zapolski (Lawrence) made eight saves, including six in the first half. Zapolski served as a back-up for two years behind All-MAAC goalkeeper Dan Riverso, who is now an assistant coach. “It’s a lot different for me this year,” Zapolski said. “You get a little shocked at first, used to sitting on the bench. It makes practice better, more excited. It makes life a little better, knowing you are going to play on game day. Dan (Riverso) is still keeping me on my toes.”
“Randy is in his third year and getting the chance to play and he has five wins already,” Fager said. “He’s been doing a good job for us. He’s learning game by game, he’s maturing nicely.”
La Salle (2-4-1) out-shot Rider 17-11 and ruined the shutout with a goal by Kevin Lydic with less than 14 minutes left to play. Rider defeated La Salle 2-1 in Philadelphia last season, and the Broncs are now 8-10-1 against the Explorers since the series began in 1966.
Rider began the season 0-3, but now heads into conference play with a winning record. “The difference between the first three games and the last six is now everyone is getting used to each other, getting used to the formation, and everyone is finding their own role,” Zapolski said. “We’re just starting to realize what is important and what is needed to win the game. We’re starting to mesh well.”
“I don’t think we’ve played a bad game all year,” Fager said. “We’re getting people into better spots now. We’re probably working a little harder. We’re a little bit closer knit as a team. Everybody is pulling for each other. Everyone realizes that somewhere along the way they are going to get their chance at glory.”
On Saturday Nico was in his glory. “We’re trying to change last year’s attitude and the first few games this year we hadn’t really done that,” Tramontana said. “But we’re obviously doing that now. The hustle, especially on defense, is the difference. Everyone is working for each other, listening to each other, and it is paying off big time.”
Rider travels to Marist Friday for the first of nine consecutive MAAC games. “I can not wait until the MAAC games start,” Tramontana said.
“That is what we’ve been working on all year,” Zapolski said. “This is all for getting ready for the MAAC season. We haven’t done anything in the MAAC yet this year.”
That all changes Friday.