The Hofstra Pride women’s lacrosse team is in the middle of an upstart season. The Pride was selected to finish just sixth in the seven-team Colonial Athletic Association by media members in the preseason poll. But now Hofstra stands at 6-3 heading into conference play with a chance to compete for the conference crown.
The Pride has established itself as an offensive juggernaut with double-digit points in seven of its nine games. The only two contests where the team didn’t score 10 or more goals was against the nationally ranked schools: University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University. Hofstra’s offense ranks second in the conference, thanks in large part to the team’s youth movement.
“Coming in, we knew that our freshman class was super athletic,” Hofstra head coach Shannon Smith said. “It was a matter of how quickly they could catch on.”
Two of the Pride’s top three leading scorers are underclassmen, including Alyssa Parrella – a freshman and the younger sister of former Pride standout Tiana Parrella – who leads the squad with 27 goals and 18 assists.
“Our freshman class has tremendous leadership, as odd as that sounds,” Smith said. “They’ve got a great spunk about themselves, they’re very energetic and they work hard. I think they’ve pushed some of the other players on our team to work even harder.”
Lexi Lenaghan has taken a step forward in her sophomore season. While she started in most of last year’s contests, she has found a niche as a bench scorer this year. She already has 19 goals, already surpassing last year’s total of 18.
The Pride has also seen a lot of improvement from goalkeeper Maddie Fields. The sophomore is in her first season as a full-time starter for Hofstra. She has lowered her goals-against average (GAA) from 11.70 to 10.12.
“I think [with Fields] it’s mostly about the comfortableness level,” Smith said. “Having that one year of experience underneath her, I think she’s really grown as a person both on the field and off the field. She’s got a lot of confidence and is a great leader. She’s got a great personality and is always making you laugh or smile. I think that personality really catches on with her defense, and it makes them want to play for her.”
Some upperclassmen have made big strides as well. Junior midfielder Drew Shapiro is in the middle of a breakout campaign with 21 goals through her first nine contests. She has five hat tricks in those nine games.
Senior Becky Conto has emerged as an offensive threat as well. Her 19 goals rank second on the team and are already almost double her career-high for a season. As a senior, she can take a lot of weight off the shoulders of the underclassmen on the team and allow them to grow and thrive without the pressure of having to score every goal.
On the other side of the field, a number of players have made huge improvements that might go unnoticed in the box scores.
“I think Rachel Gregory has improved tremendously on the defensive side of the field,” Smith said. “She dealt with some sickness and injuries last year and wasn’t able to play, but she’s stepped up and emerged as a huge player for us.”
Smith also mentioned Shea McAvoy, Conto and Shapiro as players who have taken steps forward.
Now Hofstra has to prepare for a grueling conference slate. Two of the CAA’s seven teams are ranked nationally and a third is regularly receiving votes. The Pride is hoping that its potent mix of young players and veterans can lead the team to a conference championship.
“The CAA is an extremely competitive conference,” Smith said. “Every team in this league has played a really tough schedule to set themselves up to be prepared. Conference games are a backyard brawl. Anyone can win regardless of what your record is and regardless of whether you’re ranked.”
The Pride has a very strong offense that can carry it to victories against almost anyone. But Smith recognizes that the team needs to work harder in certain aspects of its game.
“We’ve got to figure out how to score more goals in transition,” Smith said. “Defensively we’ve got to continue to find our identity. It’s about outworking another team and getting those ground balls. It’s how we practice and how we preach it to them and the kids have really been buying into it.”
Hofstra’s conference schedule begins on Friday when the team takes the road to play Drexel University. Opening draw control will be at 6 p.m.
“We’re really excited,” Smith said. “It’s going to be fun to play in conference.”