By Olson Barthelemy
The departure of a legendary coach, the loss of a player whose name litters the school's record books, the transition to a new and relatively untested head coach, and the loss of yet another premier player for the season due to injury.
By no means are the above the ingredients for a successful season. In fact few if any could blame a team for regressing under such circumstances.
In the rare case that such a collective can achieve a modicum of success under such conditions; the subsequent praise they receive is understandable.
But what can be said when a team not only succeeds against these odds but has their best season ever? Whatever the answer to that question is, it applies to the Hofstra Pride volleyball team who experienced their most successful season ever, winning the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) title and winning the first ever NCAA tournament match in the program's history against Cornell University before falling to the hands of No. 5 Penn State.
To put the Pride's season in the correct perspective, the losses the team experienced before and early on this season must first be acknowledged. Fran Kalafer stood at the helm of the Pride volleyball program for 25 years and compiled over 600 victories. Outside hitter Tessa Sphar set many milestones during her tenure with the Pride and her stats dominate various top 10 lists in the school's record books. Right side Talita Silva was an offensive force for the Pride during the 05-06 campaign.
The Pride lost all three of these contributors at the start of the season. Kalafer retired, Sphar, a senior last season, graduated, and Silva suffered a season ending injury. Despite these losses, the Pride was picked second in the CAA preseason coaches' poll.
Expected to overcome these losses, while at the same time living up to still high expectations (in part due to expectations placed on her team and the person she was replacing), was new head coach Lauren Netherby.
Many would fold under such intense scrutiny, yet Netherby managed to lead the Pride to a historic season. After early struggles, the Pride was on cruise control for the majority of the season going on a 12 match win streak. The loss that ended that streak, against Towson, would be the Pride's only CAA loss of the season. With a convincing three game sweep of VCU, the Pride won their first ever CAA title.
Their main objective already completed, the Pride headed to Penn State to compete in the sixth ever NCAA tournament in school history.
Merely making the trip was an accomplishment in and of itself considering the losses the tea had incurred prior to the season. A victory on such uncharted territory was surely too much to ask for. Yet, behind the best performance in the already accomplished career of junior setter Shellane Ogoshi (a career high 65 assists, 14 digs, and 5 kills), the Pride won their first ever NCAA tournament match in a thrilling five games (30-22, 30-32, 30-27, 24-30, 15-11).
The Pride went on to lose to #5 Penn State in the second round, but clearly a loss to one of the best teams in the nation can't derail what has been a fairytale season for both head coach Netherby and her players.
"I couldn't have enjoyed a better rookie year with a CAA Championship ring and ending the season in the second round to No. 5 Penn State," said Netherby in recapping her first season with the Pride.