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Veteran-led Hofstra eyes NCAAs

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Falling just short of an NCAA Tournament bid last season has added extra fuel for a veteran Hofstra women’s lacrosse team.

Hofstra fell to James Madison in the Colonial Athletic Association title game last May with the league’s automatic NCAA tourney invitation on the line in a rematch of a regular season 9-8 double overtime loss to the 2018 national champions that would have given the Pride a strong shot at an at-large bid. Those two defeats are fresh on the minds of Hofstra's returning players who are fueled to get the team over the hump this spring and achieve the school's first NCAA appearance since 2007. 

“It’s something we all come in here and dream of,” said senior defender Darcie Smith, a former standout at Wantagh High School, on the goal of bringing Hofstra into the 26-team NCAA tourney field. “I think we have a good chance and I know once we get closer everyone will be so hungry for it.”

Smith is leading Hofstra’s quest for an NCAA berth as a tri-captain with fellow seniors Alyssa Parrella and Alexa Mattera. The Pride began the with a heartbreaking 9-8 defeat to then 16th-ranked USC before posting convincing victories against Bucknell, Wagner and Fairfield. 

Parrella has rewritten the Hofstra record book holding marks now for most goals (203) and points (277) in program history. The senior midfielder was a Third-Team All American last year when she tallied 85 goals and 20 assists while ally tallying 22 draw controls.

“She is one of the best players in the country,” said eight-year Hofstra head coach Shannon Smith of Parrella, the reigning CAA Player of the Year who scored eight goals in a 15-8 win at Wagner on Feb. 18. “She has a quick first step and she is a lethal goal scorer.”

Mattera is also coming off a staller junior campaign where she earned All-CAA First-Team honors with 39 goals and 68 draw controls.  The senior midfielder opened her final collegiate season with a bang scoring four goals in Hofstra’s season opener against USC and netted 11 for the month of February through the first four games.

The Price boast a number of other scoring options including returning attackers Grace Langella, Amanda Guerra, Katie Whelan and Erin Demek along with freshman midfielder Taylor Mennella. Whelan, a Long Beach High School product, had a breakthrough sophomore season with 59 points on 30 goals and a team-leading 29 assists.

Hofstra’s offense is getting plenty of extra possessions this seasons thanks to dominance in the draw circle by Smith. The Wantagh native recorded eight draw controls against both Wagner and Fairfield to move into second place in program history with 191. She credits the tutelage of Hofstra assistant coach Amanda Johansen, who had 258 draw controls during her playing career at USC, with being a driving force in her improvement in the circle the last two years.

“Having Amanda is awesome and every day I’m out there with her and she is helping me get better,” Smith said.  “I wouldn’t be as successful as I am on the draws without the girls on my circle and without Amanda helping me every day.”

Smith is also a key part of Hofstra’s defense that also includes her former Wantagh teammate, Anna Kaufmann, who was fifth on the team in groundballs as a freshman last year. The defensive unit also features sophomore Erin Tierney, a CAA All-Rookie team honoree last year, junior Shannon Boyle and junior Sabrina Cristodero, who transferred from national powerhouse Florida. Cristodero returned home to Long Island where she previously won three state championships at Saint Anthony’s.

“She is probably the best defender in the country,” said Coach Smith of Cristodero,  who was ranked the 25th top recruit in the nation by Inside Lacrosse in 2017. “She is really pushing our attackers every day in practice.”

Sophomore goalie Jess Smith backstops the strong Hofstra defense after establishing herself as one of the top net-minders in the CAA as a freshman.