The 2016 volleyball season is just around the corner, and after Hofstra came up short in last year’s CAA Tournament, the team will no doubt be hungrier than ever to get back to the top of the CAA. Before the Pride could reach the top of the conference, the team must first navigate its way through a long and difficult regular season, starting at the Black Knights Invitational at West Point, NY, on Aug. 26.
8/26 v. Valparaiso (Black Knights Invitational): The Pride opens up the 2016 season with a matchup against last year’s Horizon League runners-up, the Valparaiso Crusaders. Valpo finished last season with a 27-8 mark, falling to Cleveland State in the Horizon championship game. The Crusaders’ top two kills leaders, Emily Campbell (429 kills) and Allison Ketcham (324) are both returning to the lineup, along with a host of other players that saw meaningful minutes last year. Valpo finished third in the nation in total digs last season, with 2,244. The Crusaders largely benefitted from playing in a weaker conference, and finished 122nd on the NCAA RPI index from last season, sixteen slots behind Hofstra at 106th. Even so, with all the experience Valpo is bringing back, it won’t be an easy one for Hofstra as it looks to start the new campaign off on the right foot.
8/27 v. CSU Bakersfield (Black Knights Invitational): Hofstra’s second opponent at West Point will be the Roadrunners of CSU Bakersfield, out of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC.) The Roadrunners are coming off of a 13-15 season, falling to New Mexico State in the WAC tournament. CSU Bakersfield finished the year 129th in RPI, and is also losing a large chunk of its attack with the departure of Kelsee Sawyer and Edithza Urias, who combined for 676 kills last season, almost half of the team’s entire kill total. It looks to be another down year for the Roadrunners, and the Pride should be in good shape in this one.
8/27 v. Army (Black Knights Invitational): The Pride’s second matchup of the afternoon, and final contest of the season-opening tourney comes against host team Army. The Black Knights were 120th in RPI, just ahead of Valpo and CSU Bakersfield, but still behind Hofstra by fourteen spots. Army finished 21-10 in the Patriot League, and was bounced from the Patriot League tourney by American University in the championship game. The Knights retain top hitter Carolyn Bockrath (326 kills), but lose a lot of production in Vanessa Edwards, who had 1,258 assists and 351 digs last season. Libero Shannel Chong returns to anchor the back line, but it will tough to match the production from Edwards.
8/30 v. Stony Brook: Hofstra opens up shop at home this season by taking on cross-island rivals Stony Brook in a match that will be moved to the David S. Mack Fitness Center (as will all home games until Oct. 2). The Seawolves finished just 12-19 in the America East last season, and the team finished a paltry 239th in RPI, a steep drop-off from Hofstra’s first three opponents. The Pride took down the Seawolves in straight sets on the road last season, and the Pride should be in prime position to cruise on home court. Kathy Fletcher will be a huge loss for Stony Brook, leading the team last year in kills (401) and finishing third in digs (274), while the Seawolves’ top two players on the back line, Lo Hathaway and Nicole Vogel, will also be gone, leaving a lot of holes in this Stony Brook lineup.
9/2 v. CSUN (UNLV Invitational): The Pride head to Las Vegas for a two-day invitational, opening up competition against Cal State Northridge, of the Big West. Another lower-tier opponent for the Pride, the Matadors finished a meager 8-20 last season, good for the 224th spot on the RPI index. Even worse for CSUN is the loss of Cieana Stinson, whose 377 kills were tops for a team that had a lot of trouble on offense. This is a young team, with just two seniors on the roster, and the Matadors don’t look like they’re going to have the firepower necessary to hang with the Pride.
9/2 v. UNLV (UNLV Invitational): Later that same day, the Pride will take on the host school, the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV. The Rebels are coming off a 16-14 season (157th in RPI) in the Mountain West conference, a step-up in competition from CSUN, but the Pride still look to have the edge, posting better team totals last season in kills, digs and assists. The Rebels will have some key players returning to the court, including middle blocker Bree Hammel, who led the team with 304 kills last season. UNLV also brings back libero Carley Riehl to anchor the defense, as well as experienced veterans like outside hitter Alyssa Wing and setter Alexis Patterson, who had over 1,000 assists last season. This one could be a bit of a tough one for the Pride, but Hofstra has the weapons to overcome the Runnin’ Rebels on their own court.
9/3 v. Sacramento State (UNLV Invitational): Hofstra’s final opponent in Las Vegas, the Hornets of Sacramento State, may not be a name-brand university in the world of athletics, but this match will be Hofstra’s toughest test so far. Finishing 26-7 in the Big Sky conference, and clocking in at 78th on the RPI index, the Hornets could be a thorn in Hofstra’s side. The bad news for the Hornets is that Lauren Kissell, the team’s leader in kills with 599, has been lost to graduation, leaving a void in the attack that will surely be tough to fill. On the other hand, this team’s strong suit last season was digging, and the Hornets return three players to the lineup with over 250 digs last season. This one will be a big hurdle for Hofstra to clear as the team looks to leave Las Vegas on a high note.
9/9 @ Syracuse University (Syracuse Tournament): The Pride head upstate to Syracuse for another two-day tournament, taking on the host Orange in the first matchup of the weekend. Syracuse is coming off a 23-8 season in the ACC, finishing 57th in RPI. Hofstra’s first big-name opponent this season, the Orange may not be as tough as its ACC pedigree may suggest, but Syracuse will still be a tough team for Hofstra to beat. The Orange do, however, lose a lot of starters and players who saw a lot of meaningful minutes. Gone is setter Gosia Wlaszczuk, who posted over 1,000 assists and 277 digs last season. Also departing are the Orange’s two leaders in kills, Silvi Uattara and Nicolette Serratore. Even with all of the experience leaving this team, expect a team as well-renowned as Syracuse to have capable players waiting in the wings.
9/10 v. Penn State (Syracuse Tournament): The toughest opponent on Hofstra’s schedule, by far. Penn State’s women’s volleyball program has become synonymous with excellence, winning multiple national championships and perennially hanging around at the top of the rankings, year after year. The Nittany Lions went 26-8 last year, and made it to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament, where the Lions were upset by un-seeded Hawaii. PSU has two players, Ali Fratti and Aiyana Whitney, returning after seasons of over 300 kills apiece, and Bryanna Weiskircher returns after a 1,245-assist season. They’ve lost a few starters out of the lineup, but Penn State is ranked 10th in preseason polls, and there’s a reason why. The Nittany Lions will contend for a national title once again, and if Hofstra were to pull this one out, it would be quite a sizable upset.
9/10 v. Siena (Syracuse Tournament): Considerable drop-off in talent level, as Hofstra goes from taking on a national powerhouse in its first match of the day, to a Siena team that’s coming off a 16-13 season in the MAAC, finishing 207th in RPI. The centerpiece of the Saints’ offense, Briana Flagg, returns for her senior season, fresh off a 2015 campaign in which she had 409 kills and 266 digs. After Flagg, the offensive production drops off a bit, with the second-best returning hitter, Sonja Vasovic, only had 233 kills. On the back line, Kalehua Katagiri returns after posting a team-high 523 digs last season. Siena should be on the upswing this year, with a lot of experience and depth, but after taking on top schools from the ACC and the Big Ten, Hofstra should more than ready to handle the Saints.
9/13 v. Seton Hall: Back at the Mack Fitness Center after two weeks on the road, Hofstra takes on the Pirates of Seton Hall University, fresh of a 14-16 season in the Big East, good for 142nd on the RPI index. The good news for Seton Hall is that practically everyone will be returning to the court for the Pirates this season. Of the seven players that played over 100 sets last year, six will be back for Seton Hall, including top hitter Danielle Schroeder, setter Sophia Coffey,and back-line anchor Tessa Coffey. This team should easily improve on a subpar season last year, and the Pirates should make for a good matchup for Hofstra.
9/16 v. Fort Wayne (Hofstra Invitational): Hofstra takes on the newly-rebranded Fort Wayne (formerly referred to as IPFW) Mastodons in the first matchup of the annual Hofstra Invitational. The Mastodons finished in lowly 281st in RPI last season, with a 7-25 record in the Summit League. Fort Wayne returns top hitter Somer Johnson, as well as back-line anchor Olivia Hahn, who posted 569 digs last season. The Mastodons have a chance to improve on a dreadful season last year, but it won’t be at the expense of the Pride, who should easily take care of business here.
9/17 v. American University (Hofstra Invitational): A much tougher matchup awaits Hofstra in the second match of the tourney, in the form of defending Patriot League champion American University. The Eagles are coming off a 28-7 season and a trip to the NCAA tournament, where the team beat Kentucky in the first round before falling to Ohio State. American is going to take a hit on offense, losing its two top attackers, Allison Cappelino and Kristyna Lindovska. The two combined for 653 total kills last season. Libero Hoakelei Dawson will be returning after leading the team with 433 digs last year, but the rest of the defense around her will be departing, leaving the Eagles with a lot of questions on both the front and back lines. This should make for a really intriguing matchup, and a potential resume-boosting win for the Pride if they could pull it out.
9/23 @ College of Charleston: Hofstra opens up conference play by taking a trip down to South Carolina to take on last year’s runner-up in the CAA, the College of Charleston Cougars. The Cougars finished 20-13 last season, 87th in RPI. Hofstra took two of three matches from the Cougars last season, with the one loss coming in the first round of the CAA tournament. The Cougars lose top hitter Madison Morello to graduation after she posted a conference-high 530 kills for Charleston last year, giving Hofstra trouble in all three matchups with her explosive power at the net. Morello was also second on the team in digs with 373, and with her and Britney Vallez (team-high 453 digs) gone, Charleston is going to have a tough time making as deep a run as it made last year.
9/25 @ UNC-Wilmington: Next up for the Pride is the defending CAA champs, the UNCW Seahawks. With a 24-8 record (58th in RPI, tops in the Colonial), the Seahawks lost in the first round of the NCAA tourney to North Carolina last season. UNCW and Hofstra split the teams’ two meetings last year, with each team winning on the road. Nicole Lott returns to spearhead the offense, coming off a team-high 385 kills last year, as well as being second on the team in digs, with 285. Four of the Seahawks’ six majority starters last season return, and the Seahawks look to be better than they were last year. This will be a huge matchup for the Pride to set the tone for conference play early, and a win could solidify Hofstra as one of the favorites to take the CAA this season.
9/30 v. James Madison: The first of a five-match homestand sees the Pride welcome the James Madison Dukes. The Dukes finished last season 22-8 (75th in RPI) and entered the CAA tournament as the top seed before being knocked out by the College of Charleston in the semifinals. The Dukes swept Hofstra in two matches last season, a trend that the Pride will look to erase this season. Janey Goodman returns for the Dukes, leading the way last year with 468 kills, over 200 more than the second-highest total on the team. Goodman also made her presence known defensively, tallying 267 digs, good for second on the team. In front of her on the digs chart was Taylor Austin, who also returns after posting 525 last year, third-best in the CAA. Outside of those two, the Dukes lose a lot of key players, including setter Sarah Patterson (1,170 assists last year).
10/2 v. William & Mary: The Pride will play host to the Tribe of William & Mary to start off the month of October. Not quite at the level of the Pride’s first three conference foes, the Tribe finished 10-20 last year, with a RPI rank of only 246. Hofstra swept W&M in two matches last year, and the Tribe really doesn’t seem ready to climb out of the second-tier of the CAA just yet. The main offensive threat for the Tribe last season, Dessi Koleva (305 kills) is gone, and the numbers after her on the statsheet don’t really jump out at anyone. Koleva also led the team in digs with 379, so the Tribe is losing its top player on both offense and defense. Sara Zumbach (369 digs last year) is capable of filling the void on defense, but the Tribe just doesn’t seem to have the weapons necessary to compete in the CAA.
10/6 v. Towson: The Pride shifts back to the top of the CAA for this matchup with the Towson Tigers. Towson went 26-6 last season (83rd in RPI,) losing in the first round of the CAA tournament to eventual champion UNCW. Hofstra split with Towson in two matches last season, beating the Tigers in straight sets on the road, before falling to them in five sets in Hempstead. Towson loses its top two hitters, Jocelyn Kuilan (426 kills) and Haley Pa’akaula (388), as well as the team’s two top setters, Aimee Schubert (859 assists) and Kyana Miller (655). One bright spot for Towson is the return of libero Anna Holehouse, who led the CAA last year in digs with 596. Four of the Tigers’ seven players with the most sets played last year are gone, and it looks as though Towson might slip back in the pack a little bit in the CAA this year.
10/8 v. Delaware: The last three opponents on Hofstra’s first go-round through the CAA all reside in the conference’s cellar, starting with the Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens. UDel finished last season 12-17 (178th in RPI), and Hofstra swept the Blue Hens in two matches last year, never dropping a set. Delaware returns a majority of its main starters from last season, but the three losses in the lineup are glaring. Katie Hillman and Bryant Chandler made up a large chunk of the Blue Hens’ offense, with 283 and 220 kills, respectively. On the back line, Ariel Shonk was the team leader in digs with 591, good for second in the CAA, as well. UDel had enough players see quality minutes last year that the team will be able to fill these holes, but the Blue Hens don’t seem like anything more than a second-tier CAA team.
10/9 v. Elon: Even further down the NCAA’s RPI index, and further down the CAA ladder, we find Hofstra’s next opponent, the Elon Phoenix. Sitting at 262 in RPI, coming off a 7-23 season, the Phoenix were dismal. Hofstra swept Elon last year, albeit in two grueling five-set matches. Possessor of the most paltry offense in the CAA last season, Elon does return a good portion of its key players. Outside hitter Sydney Busa returns after leading the team last year with 244 kills, and Maddie Jaudon returns to the backline after notching 415 digs a season ago. Sydel Curry returns to the setter position after 851 assists last year, making her the last chance for the Curry family to win a championship in the 2016 calendar year. Jokes aside, Elon just doesn’t have enough offense to keep up with some of the more powerful teams in the conference, and the Phoenix will, yet again, be unable to soar to the top of the CAA.
10/15 v. Northeastern: Hofstra’s final opponent on the first loop through the CAA is the Northeastern Huskies, another perennial cellar-dweller in the Colonial. At 272 in RPI, the Huskies look to rebound from a 6-25 season last year. The Pride swept Northeastern in 2015, though the Huskies took the Pride to five sets in the teams’ first matchup. Northeastern returns its top outside hitter, Brigitte Burcescu, coming off an impressive season with a team-high 396 kills to go along with 254 digs. Also coming back for the Huskies are libero Gabrielle Eyl (team-high 407 digs) and Jamie Bredahl (648 assists, 35 service aces). The Huskies have nowhere to go but up, and this team has some potential to climb past Elon and UDel, but with the immense amount of talent at the top of the CAA, including with the Pride, the Huskies will be on the outside looking in again this year.