By Alexandra Licata — STAFF WRITER
As the long summer days come to an end, Hofstra men’s soccer looks to return to the field and begin its 2017 season with eyes on finishing what it started last year. The team heads to University Park in Pennsylvania to take on Penn State University to kick off its season on Aug. 25 at 7 p.m.
After falling to William & Mary 3-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association Semifinal to end the 2016 season, the Pride is looking to make it back to the CAA Tournament and bring home another championship. The team last won a CAA title in 2015 against Delaware, which was its first since 2006.
A solid defensive line made up of graduates Nino Alfonso, Rory Murphy, and Harri Hawkins, junior Sean Nealis, and goalie Alex Ashton, were consistent factors in the Pride’s success during its 2016 season. Hawkins’ defense earned him the title of CAA Defensive Player of the Year.
The team won six consecutive conference games until being defeated by the University of North Carolina Wilmington in a 3-1 loss and went on to finish its regular season with a record of 9-7-1.
With the loss of key players like Alfonso and Hawkins on defense, the Pride will have to solidify its backline once again.
Senior Nick Bigilin will most likely join Nealis after performing well in preseason practice.
Newcomers George O’Malley and Andrea Codispoti, along with transfer Marcus Lindqvist, provide Hofstra head coach Richard Nuttall with options for both midfield and backline configurations.
Nuttall is entering his 29th season with the Pride and has had consistent success with the team, transforming the program into one of the most competitive in the Northeast.
The backline isn’t the only place the Pride lost impactful players. Joseph Holland, who is now playing for the Houston Dynamo in Major League Soccer after being selected No. 10 overall in the 2017 SuperDraft, was a staple for the Pride’s midfield.
Holland was tied for second in points scored for the Pride last season with 14 and honed a major role, not only as a leader for his younger teammates, but also as the team’s top player in assists with eight.
However, the 2017 team has lots of midfield depth with now-seniors Meshack Eshun Addy and Danny Elliott posting six goals each in the 2016 season. Elliott began conference play with four goals in four games, while Eshun Addy led the team with three game-winning goals.
Mani Walcott, who earned a spot on the All-CAA Third-Team, will also be returning to center midfield. Transfers Hampus Agerstrom and Gustavo Nascimento are also experienced at the collegiate level, while freshmen Storm Strongin and Jack Nuttall have had a strong preseason and offer young talent and potential.
Sophomores Adam Savill and Oscar Ramsey, along with senior Jon Fraser, also return to contribute to the team’s midfield depth.
While veteran players continued to impress in their final season last year, the young talent also shined as freshman Luke Brown stepped up and scored eight goals during his first season and was awarded CAA Rookie of the Year, along with selections to the CAA First-Team and All-Rookie Team. Brown led the team with eight goals and 18 points, securing himself as a starting forward for the Pride.
Junior goalkeeper Alex Ashton also had a great first season. After not appearing in any games during the 2015 year, Ashton took over the role of starting goalie in his sophomore year finishing the season with a .591 save percentage with 26 saves.
The talent doesn’t stop there as the Pride continues to have players be recognized in the conference. Elliott was named to the Preseason All-Colonial Athletic Association Team, while Brown and Eshun Addy were both named preseason honorable mentions.
The Pride took second in the CAA preseason poll, voted on by the league’s nine head coaches, after earning 52 points, including three first-place votes. William & Mary, CAA Tournament runner-up, was the preseason favorite.
This season, the Pride includes lots of new talent, made up of three transfers and six freshmen who have had impressive high school careers.
With Brown as the leader at forward, several teammates have the opportunity to earn a starting spot with him. Freshman Matthew Vowinkel played for Chaminade High School and scored 86 goals in 85 games, earning him National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) All-America recognition.
Mario Licari and senior Pablo Casado are also options to help the team at forward. It will be the sophomore Licari’s first year on the roster.
The Pride begins its season with four games on the road, including matches against No. 6 Maryland and No. 13 Virginia. The team begins CAA play on Sept. 16 against Elon at home. Defending CAA Tournament Champion Delaware returns to play the Pride at home on Oct. 7.
Hofstra will play preseason favorite William & Mary on Oct. 14.
It is a challenging schedule for the Pride, but one the team hopes will lead it to the CAA Tournament. But, before that can happen, Hofstra must play its first game against Penn State. It will be the first time the teams have met since 2011, which ended in a tie. With a team made up of many new faces, starting the season with good communication on the field and a win can prove to be very helpful in boosting confidence going forward as the Pride seeks its third regular-season title in as many years.