By Anders Jorstad — STAFF WRITER
The Hofstra volleyball squad is looking to catch people by surprise this season. In a lot of ways, they already have. Hofstra, picked second in the Colonial Athletic Association in this year’s preseason polls, sits at 12-7 overall and 4-1 in CAA play.
This edition of the Pride features just two seniors: Doris Bogoje and Paola Figueroa. The rest of the team is comprised mostly of underclassmen that hail from half a dozen nations around the globe.
Coming to America is a big adjustment for the overseas players. The sport in the states is pretty different from what the international players are used to.
“The rules are actually very different in Italy,” said junior middle blocker and Italian-born Michela Rucli. “The style is very different. Serving criteria is different. What’s considered in and out of bounds is different. The style of play here is also very fast compared to what I was used to.”
Despite all of those challenges, Hofstra looks to be putting together one of its most successful years under head coach Emily Mansur in her fourth year at the helm. She has done it with one of the most culturally diverse teams on campus.
“It’s definitely a challenge [to teach them all the American game],” Mansur said. “I think that’s one of the hardest things for them to adjust to as a team, all of these rules and all of these new expectations that we have for them. But that’s why we tell the team, ‘Be patient for one year. After you go through there you’ll see why we do everything.’ So it’s really just getting them to trust that everything has a reason, buy in and then you’re going to realize that we have a reason for what we do.”
The Pride coaching staff spends the year looking far and wide for stars abroad. Their connections have helped them find young studs such as Laura Masciullo from Italy, Ivania Ortiz from Puerto Rico, Luisa Sydlik from Germany and many more who have thrived right away.
“Most of them [are found through] word of mouth. But [assistant coach Esaí R. Vélez] is from Puerto Rico so he gets to see the Puerto Ricans all the time. I get to travel a little bit all over Europe and have some connections. They’ll call and say ‘Hey, there’s someone who’s very good. Do you want to take a look?’ And I’ll say ‘Absolutely.’ And here they are.”
Mansur makes it sound easy, but getting the players to mesh together right away takes a lot of work. She credits her captains with helping the coaches foster a family environment. The closeness of the team allows the players to have people they can lean on when they have a bad day and aren’t close to their friends and family overseas.
For many players, the expectations to perform at a high level under these conditions would be intimidating, but Mansur is not ready to give her team a cop-out.
“I always say that one of the biggest things for us here at Hofstra is that being young is not an excuse,” Mansur said. “That’s something we tell them from the minute we recruit them, not to expect to have one year to come here and get used to things. The moment we get here we’ve got to strive to be a successful team because that is what we are coming here to do and to work for. So I know we are young, but this is something that we stress to them so much, we cannot play young. So it’s not something that I’m surprised that we’re able to compete with this young team.”
The Pride’s two best attackers in terms of kills this year are Masciullo, a sophomore and Ortiz, a freshman. Sydlik, the league-leader in assists, is also a sophomore. Mansur is excited to have this young core at Hofstra for years to come. The future is bright for the Pride, but so is the present. Hofstra is second in the CAA standings and is looking to put together a NCAA Tournament run.
“It’s going to be very important to be able to keep the core and to continue to build,” Mansur said. “Next year we can worry about something else and not the same things we did this year. So if we can get the core group to really buy in and do the right thing, it’s going to be a really good time coming for Hofstra University.”