After finishing the 2013 season 9-8-1 and losing in the MAAC championship semifinal, the women’s soccer team hoped to make its presence known in the conference in 2014. The Broncs did just that when they secured the first MAAC title in the program’s history on Nov. 9, 2014, in a back-and-forth battle against Fairfield that was decided in penalty kicks.
The championship game took place in West Long Branch, N.J., and went down to the wire. Rider opened the scoring in the 63rd minute with a goal from freshman Ellie Smith, and it seemed like it would be all the Broncs would need because of the strong goalkeeping play of sophomore Bethany-May Howard. With only eight minutes left in regulation, Fairfield found the back of the Bronc’s net, tieing the score at 1-1. After two unsuccessful overtime periods, the teams battled it out in penalty kicks, where the Broncs prevailed 5-4.
Junior Tara Ballay credits the success to the strong relationships between the teammates and coaches. “It felt amazing to be part of this team and able to win the first MAAC title in the program,” Ballay says. “We have a very tight-knit group who plays with high energy, and we all worked together well, including the coaches. Success is never a sure thing, but we have a chance to continue to win because we are a very young team who plays with a lot of heart.”
While Ballay is mostly concerned about the team’s accomplishments, she has also achieved some impressive feats of her own. After missing the five games of the season with a broken leg, she led the conference in scoring, earning her the MAAC Player of the Year award.
But Ballay is not one to put athletics before academics. The junior wrapped up the semester with a 3.88 cumulative GPA as a psychology major, earning her a spot on the CoSIDA Second Team Capital One Academic All-America Women’s Soccer team.
“Even though it is stressful, it’s definitely important to maintain the balance between athletics and academics,” Ballay says. “I prioritize academics first, because I want to be eligible to play, and I want to be prepared for my future career. Sometimes, it requires me to get work done ahead of time, or to study on a long bus ride, but I always manage to get it done.”