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Hofstra seeks breakthrough year

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A mix of top veterans and talented freshmen are poised to bring Hofstra women’s lacrosse to new heights.

Hofstra is coming off an 8-9 season where the Pride finished just short of reaching the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. It started the 2019 campaign with a purpose winning four straight after a season-opening 15-10 loss to then 21st-ranked USC by a combined 41 goals against Bucknell, Wagner, Fairfield and Quinnipiac.

“We have a very special team in the locker room,” seventh-year Hofstra head coach Shannon Smith said. “They are building some great chemistry.”

Hofstra returned its two leading scorers from last year in juniors Alyssa Parrella and Alexa Mattera, who both earned All-CAA accolades last year. Parrella tied a program record last year with 57 goals and already tallied 24 in Hofstra’s five February games to begin 2019.

“She keeps getting better and better,” said Smith of Parrella, a Miller Place native who recorded an acrobatic backhanded goal against Quinnipiac on Feb. 27 that cracked the number five spot on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top Plays. “She is dynamite.” 

Parrella is also taking on an increased leadership role this spring as a tri-captain with defender Analise Martin and Darcie Smith. Martin has been a force on the defensive field with seven groundballs and three caused turnovers through the first five games. Smith, a former standout at Wantagh High School, has been taken on more of an offensive role as a junior this year with five goals and 13 draw controls in February.

“She has really worked hard to get to the level she is at,” coach Smith of the Wantagh product. “She is a Warrior out there.”

Darcie Smith’s former Wantagh teammate Anna Kaufmann is also making her mark at Hofstra with the freshman starting at defensive midfield and recording 11 draw controls in February. She is an integral part of Hofstra’s defensive effort along with Martin, Smith, freshman Erin Tierney and sophomore Shannon Boyle, who was a member of the U.S. Under-19 national team last year.  Freshman goalie Jess Smith is also a key component of the defense after earning All-Suffolk County honors for three years at Babylon High School.

“Her potential is sky’s the limit,” coach Smith said of her starting net-minder, who recorded 13 saves in Hofstra’s 17-7 victory over Quinnipiac. “She is a phenomenal goalie.”

The Hofstra offense features multiple scoring weapons complementing Parrella and Mattera led by sophomore Katie Whelan, who tallied 19 points in the Pride’s first five games. Whelan shined as a freshman with 28 goals and 53 draw controls following a prolific career at nearby Long Beach High School.

“She is has so much confidence,” Smith said of Whelan, who is a Long Beach lifeguard in the offseason. “She is a dynamic player.”

Hofstra’s offense is also receiving production early on from attackers Mary Kate Gerety, Erin Demek, Tessa Sinatro and Grace Langella along with midfielders Jackie Gatti and Arianna Esposito. Darcie Smith and Boyle add increased scoring capabilities from the defensive end of the field creating further havoc for opposing teams.

“It’s huge having many scoring options,” said coach Smith, who won three national titles and the 2011 Tewaaraton Trophy as an attacker at Northwestern. “It makes us that much harder to cover.”

Smith pieced together a challenging non-conference schedule that began in Los Angeles against USC on Feb. 9 and also includes home games against second-ranked Maryland, and Johns Hopkins as well as hitting the road to face High Point and Dartmouth. Fourteenth-ranked Johns Hopkins, who competes in the Big Ten for women’s lacrosse, will visit Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium this Saturday at 3 p.m. in the Pride’s final home game before the CAA schedule kicks off in April. 

“Having a really competitive non-conference schedule should really get us prepared for conference play,” coach Smith said.

Hofstra was picked to finish fourth in the seven-team CAA, which also includes defending national champion James Madison, Towson, Elon, Drexel, Delaware and William & Mary. The league season begins at home on April 5 against William & Mary at 5 p.m. before the Pride host James Madison on April 14 at noon and Towson on April 19 at 7 p.m. A top four finish would qualify Hofstra for the CAA playoffs for first time since 2015 with an opportunity to claim the conference’s automatic bid into the 26-team NCAA Tournament. 

“Our conference is very tough,” Smith said. “It’s a backyard brawl every game.”