As the Hofstra men’s soccer team was gearing up for its 2013 season in late August, it traded dorm rooms for wooden cabins.
The Pride stepped away from Long Island for some bonding at Camp Towanda in northeast Pennsylvania, and the program’s longtime head coach Richard Nuttall is hoping the late-summer excursion will pay dividends in the name of team chemistry this fall.
“It’s really a great way to bring the team together,” said Nuttall, who has been Hofstra’s head coach since 1988 and brought his players and staff to Camp Towanda for the first time just before the 2012 season. “It really helped the team last year.”
Last season saw the Pride reach the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) finals where it fell in overtime to Northeastern. Hofstra, which compiled a record of 11-6-4 last year, was picked fourth in the CAA preseason coaches’ poll and garnered one first-place vote. The Pride last reached the NCAA Tournament in 2006, which capped a streak of three straight CAA championships.
If Hofstra is going to compete for a conference title in 2013 it will have to do so without reigning CAA Co-Defensive Player of the Year Shaun Foster, who was lost to graduation. “He was an amazing defensive player and an emotional leader,” Nuttall said. “We have to fill the void with everyone picking up the slack.”
Hofstra returns six starters including three of its top four goal-scorers, seniors Chris Griebsch and Tyler Botte, who both earned All-CAA accolades last season, as well as junior Maid Memic. Griebsch picked up a CAA-leading 11 assists as a junior while Botte anchored the backline and proved an effective option on set pieces in the offensive zone with 14 points. Memic compiled 22 points and was a third-team NSCAA All-South Atlantic region selection.
Sophomore international players Marius Flatehoe of Norway and Felix Schaefer of Germany could see key defensive-minded roles this season. The midfield returns senior Germany native Herbert Biste, who started 14 games last season and registered two assists.
Nuttall said he plans to go deep into his bench utilizing between 15-17 players making conditioning a top priority.
“We’re really a passing team but we like to move the ball around and defend as a unit,” Nuttall said. “We’re going to use a large squad.”
On defense, Hofstra will get senior goalie Roberto Pellegrini back between the pipes after the Rome, Italy native was forced to have back surgery following just five games in 2012. Pellegrini, who led the CAA in saves with 92 two years ago, is the leader to start in net, according to Nuttall. “He looks back to his old self,” said Nuttall of the Italian netminder.
Hofstra has 10 freshman on its roster including two local players from Nassau County’s South Shore in midfielders Gregory Abrahams (Baldwin) and Lerthon Theuma (Franklin Square.) Abrahams was a captain and 2012 Nassau County honorable mention selection as a senior at Baldwin and captured the school’s unsung hero award. Theuma played four years of varsity soccer at Valley Stream North and was selected as Nassau County Player of the Year for Class A as a senior after leading the Spartans to a conference championship.
Hofstra faces a challenging schedule that includes four teams that made it into the NCAA Tournament last year in Brown and Farleigh Dickinson along with CAA opponents, Northeastern and Drexel. The CAA is a traditionally a very competitive conference that sends multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament including three last season.
“Our conference is tremendous,” Nuttall said. “Every game is like a final…”If you aren’t ready for them emotionally you are going to get steamrolled.”