By Kevin Carroll — SPORTS EDITOR
Plenty of fresh faces will await fans of the Hofstra field hockey team as the Pride hits the field to kick off the 2017 season tonight, when the team travels to take on Lafayette University at 7 p.m.
Hofstra returns to the turf after a 9-10 record in 2016 that featured an ugly six-game losing streak to finish the year after a very promising first half. Five of those losses came against Hofstra’s CAA opponents, and with the conference looking to remain tough as ever this year, the team will have its work cut out for it if Hofstra wants to contend.
Head coach Kathy De Angelis, entering her 20th season at the helm of the Pride, looks to be in rebuilding mode heading into the season. De Angelis has brought in a recruiting class of 11 promising freshmen, a group of players that will most likely factor into the lineup at some point, to offset Hofstra losing 10 seniors to graduation from last year.
At the head of that departing pack is Hofstra great Claudia Marin Samper, who tallied 18 goals and 13 assists in her senior year, both team-highs. In all, Marin Samper wrapped up her illustrious career with 56 goals and 39 assists, good for 151 total points. She broke Genna Kovar’s programs records for points and assists, and finished just two goals shy of Kovar’s record in that category, as well.
In addition, the Pride also loses key players like Stella Schoen (14 goals, seven assists) and Carissa Witmer (seven goals, four assists) on the offensive end. In fact, of the Pride’s 58 goals scored last year, 45 of them belonged to players that aren’t back at Hofstra this season.
This void will present a challenge to De Angelis, as she looks to find production from faces both new and old to compete in the CAA, home of the defending national champs at the University of Delaware.
Madison Sauve comes back to the Pride after scoring five goals and dishing five assists last season. Also returning to the fold offensively for Hofstra is Lara Bittel, who had a great freshman year last year with four goals and two assists. With a year of experience under her belt, look for Bittel to have a breakout year for the Pride.
Hofstra will most likely depend on this year’s crop of freshmen to create some offense, and recruits like Sophie Craig and Colette Euksuzian could certainly be counted on to bring the firepower. Craig scored 12 goals and set her high school’s all-time points record in 2016 at Fayetteville Manlius High School in Manlius, New York.
Euksuzian, a native of Medford, New Jersey, had a prolific senior season there, with 12 goals and 15 assists, the highest assist total in the entirety of Burlington County.
With a non-conference schedule that, while maybe not as difficult as last year’s slate that featured Syracuse, Albany and Maine, but still features tough foes like Monmouth and St. Joseph’s, the Pride will have little time to figure out where the production will come from.
And the schedule hardly gets easier as the Pride reaches its CAA opponents. No one will overlook the University of Delaware, gunning for a repeat national championship; but the CAA also has solid programs in James Madison and William & Mary. With only four teams making the CAA Tournament at the end of the year, Hofstra will have to put itself right in the mix with those top teams.
On the back end, Hofstra’s defense will be anchored by All-CAA preseason selection Marloes Schavemaker. The Netherlands native had two goals and three assists last season. Bittel could also drop back to play defense. Joining these two on the back line could be names like sophomore Dominique Luxardo, who saw some time last year as a freshman, playing in eight games.
Of the 11 new recruits coming in this season, only one of them is listed as a defender, but Frankie O’Brien comes to Hofstra with an impressive list of accolades, including being named first team All-State as a junior and senior out of Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. She could also score, posting an absurd 29 goals and 67 points in 2016. It probably won’t be long until we see O’Brien factoring into Hofstra’s lineup in a big way.
Behind them, Carys Swan will be in net for the Pride, after splitting time last season with senior Lauren Saltus. Swan didn’t see as much time as the departed Saltus, but she started five games and is more than capable of running the show in net. Backing her up will be freshman Cecelia DeSimone.
Picked to finish sixth in the seven-team CAA, Hofstra will be out to prove that it belongs at the top of the pack this season. It all starts tonight at Lafayette, a team that finished just one spot ahead of the Pride in last year’s NCAA RPI standings.