By Anders Jorstad — STAFF WRITER
The Hofstra Pride volleyball team is bringing a lot of fresh faces to a team that performed well last year and is hoping the newbies can provide the push needed to succeed in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Last year, the Pride finished 20-10 with a 10-6 conference record before falling in its first CAA tournament meeting to the Towson Tigers in straight sets. The Pride season was filled with ups and downs. Many of the team’s home matches were played at the David S. Mack Fitness Center rather than the team’s usual home in the Mack Physical Education Center, due to the presidential debate.
The team thrived in its unusual conditions. The lower ceiling in the fitness center often threw opposing teams for a loop, and the Pride used its familiarity with the court to surge to a 6-0 record in the temporary home.
This year the team will play its slate of home matches in the PEC as usual, but many of Hofstra’s former stars will no longer be donning the blue and gold.
Hannah Klemm, the CAA Setter of the Year in 2015, is the biggest loss for the roster. Klemm had been a mainstay at the position since she joined the Pride. Also gone is Veronika Kostova, a key frontline piece from the last several seasons. The other two players lost to graduation were defensive specialist Sophia Black and middle blocker Semen Sen.
Luisa Domingues, the team’s libero last season, is also no longer with the team. Gone is outside hitter Leticia Valente as well.
In total the team has lost 34 percent of its kills, 57 percent of its digs and 67 percent of its assists from last season. That opens up a lot of playing time for newcomers on this year’s team.
The Pride will feature a very young roster in 2017. There are only two seniors: Doris Bogoje and Paola Figueroa, two frontline pieces who were 7th and 8th respectively in kills for the Pride last year. Hofstra also has eight newcomers this season, all of which are freshmen.
Hofstra will also rely heavily on sophomore Laura Masciullo. The 2016 CAA Rookie of the Year became the first Pride to lead Hofstra in kills since 1994. The youngster played fearlessly last year as a newbie, so now it’s up to her to continue to hold the torch for the slew of new faces.
Beyond Masciullo, playing time on the front line will be up for grabs. Nanishka Perez is looking for a bounce-back campaign in her junior year. Michela Rucli will continue to see a lot of time as a dual-threat who can block and attack effectively.
Freshmen Ana Martinovic, Dubravka Krakovic, Sanne Maring, Emma Price, Ashley Caesar and Ivania Ortiz will all get their opportunities on the front line in addition to Figeruoa, Bogoje and Hannah Russell. With such a large cast of youngsters on the front line, chances are that a couple of them will emerge during non-conference play.
Sophomore setter Luisa Sydlik should have a stranglehold on the position. She spent last year under the tutelage of her former high school teammate Klemm and occasionally saw more court time than Klemm late in close matches. Malia Randolph is the only other setter on the roster.
The backline should see a good deal of competition as well. Caylie Denham is the only returner with the departures of Black and Domingues. The libero role has been a revolving door the Pride for the last few seasons and could continue to be this year unless Denham or one of the freshmen takes off with the role. Julia Van Vleet and Alexandra Parkas are the two newcomers that could give Denham a run for her money.
The Pride was picked to finish second in the CAA in the league’s preseason polls. Only the College of Charleston was chosen to finish ahead of Hofstra. The Pride was also the only team to have two players place on the preseason all-CAA squad: Masciullo and Rucli.
However, Pride fans will have to wait a while to see their favorite team in action. Hofstra’s first 11 matches will all take place on the road before it returns to Hempstead on Sept. 15 to face Binghamton. The Pride’s first match of the year will be on Aug. 25 against Virginia.
Although the Pride won’t be home for a while, the CAA voters think it’ll be worth the wait to see the volleyball team battle for the conference title.