03 Nov Women’s soccer taking aim at fourth CAA title in five years — The Hofstra Chronicle
With a historic graduating class riding the momentum of a 14-3-1 regular season, the Hofstra women’s soccer team will enter the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Championship tournament with one goal in mind: bringing the hardware back to Hempstead.
As the CAA’s No. 2 seed heading into the tournament, the Pride has a date with the No. 3 Dukes of James Madison University (JMU) on Thursday, Nov. 4, in the semifinal round. The winner of that match will go on to face either UNC-Wilmington (UNCW) or Northeastern University on Sunday, Nov. 7, where a CAA champion will be crowned, and one team will punch its ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
Despite being the conference’s second seed, Hofstra had the most successful regular season of any CAA team, finishing with a win percentage of .806. The Pride went unbeaten for a stretch of nine games, beginning with their Thursday, Sept. 2, victory over Columbia University and lasting until Northeastern ended the streak on Thursday, Oct. 14.
The Pride’s offense has been powered by a sensational campaign from senior Miri Taylor. Leading the CAA in goals scored, Taylor’s found the net 15 times through the Pride’s 18 matches. Combined with her 10 assists, tying her for second in the conference, she leads the CAA with a whopping 40 points for the season – 12 points more than the second place Nia Christopher of Towson University.
However, Taylor is not the only impact player on offense. Rounding out the top three assisters in the conference are fifth-year players Lucy Porter and Lucy Shepherd, with 11 and 10 assists, respectively. Porter, who has led the team in goals scored in each of the Pride’s last two seasons, has allowed for the team’s blossoming young attackers to thrive by setting them up at a conference-leading rate. Taking only the fifth-most shots of any Pride player this year, her six goals puts her in a three-way tie for third on the team with Shepherd and freshman Georgia Brown.
Brown’s emergence as a threat on the attack has amplified the Pride’s offensive output, and she’s shown a knack for coming up big when the team needs it most. The midfielder from Highworth, England, already has four game-winning goals to her name, tying her for the second-most in the conference this season.
The team’s second-leading goal scorer, junior Ellen Halseth, burst onto the scene with seven goals in her first season as a starter. After taking just one shot, on goal or not, in her entire previous campaign, Halseth improved that number to 43 shots and 14 shots on goal this year.
Her seven goals put her fourth in the conference, giving the Pride a remarkable five players in the conference’s top 10 scorers.
Not only has the team gotten it done on offense, but they’ve shown impressive fortitude on the defensive end, led by junior goalkeeper Skylar Kuzmich. Kuzmich has been a force to be reckoned with in Hofstra’s net – allowing only nine goals across her 18 starts. With 44 saves, she ranks third in the CAA in save percentages with .830, and she leads the conference in shutouts with 10. With Krista Agostinello, Anja Suttner, Marlene Fries and Louise Hayden serving as the team’s starting back four, the Pride has allowed just 54 shots on goal this season.
The team’s graduating class features 12 players, many of whom have served pivotal roles in the team’s historic run over the past five seasons. Headlining that class is Porter, Taylor and Shepherd, who have set the tone for the Pride’s perennially explosive attack throughout their Hofstra careers.
“This group means a hell of a lot to me and the program,” said Hofstra head coach Simon Riddiough. “They’ve carried us through one of the more successful periods in Hofstra women’s soccer history. They’ve taken our program to new heights: top 10 national ranking, RPI [ranking] in the top 20, dominating conference [play]. I think that says a lot about this class and these seniors, and we’re hoping that they come back with another championship. I think that’d be a wonderful way for them to finish their careers off at Hofstra.”
Even with this wealth of talent, it hasn’t been strictly smooth sailing for the Pride this year. After cruising through non-conference matches with a record of 8-1, Hofstra opened CAA play strongly with four consecutive wins, but the streak-ending loss to Northeastern was followed up by a 0-0 tie with the College of William & Mary. Two games later, the Pride was once again bested, this time by the CAA’s defending champions who defeated Hofstra in last year’s semifinals, Elon University. The tie and two losses brought the Pride’s conference record to 6-2-1, allowing UNCW to secure the top spot in the conference with their 7-2 finish.
“I’ve always spoken about the parity in the conference,” Riddiough said. “Especially when it comes to important games, anybody can beat anybody.”
Across those three games, the Pride struggled to capitalize on scoring opportunities, tallying just one goal across the two losses and one tie.
“It’s been a difficult thing to address, because [the team’s offensive struggles] is not through a lack of creating opportunities,” Riddiough said. “If you look at those three games, we outshot Northeastern with 25 shots, William & Mary with 21 shots and [against] Elon we had 16 shots. So it’s not for a lack of creating opportunities, it’s probably a lack of quality in the final third, which sometimes happens [at] this time of seasons. People get tired, they’re physically beat, emotionally, mentally a little bit tired. It’s a long season, it’s a hard season.”
While the Pride has their sights set on another trip to the NCAA Tournament, their first challenge will be the red-hot James Madison Dukes, who enter the tournament on a four-match winning streak. Although the Dukes might not have a superstar attacker, their balanced offense has allowed for six different players to find the back of the net over their last four wins, creating a dangerous attack with plenty of scoring threats.
“I thought JMU played really well against us last game,” Riddiough said. “I thought they caused us quite a lot of problems with the way they play, their style of play … JMU has some quality offensive weapons we’re going to have to deal with. But I’ve said this all year long, we are a very good team, and if we are as good as we think we are, we’ll take care of business this next week and move into the NCAAs.”
Photo courtesy of Adam Flash/The Hofstra Chronicle
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