By Joe Pantorno, Sports Editor
The upcoming 2011-2012 season will mark landmark seasons for some of the Hofstra University women's basketball players who are stepping into leadership roles and looking to bring this team to new heights.
This is senior guard Candice Bellocchio's fifth season as point guard for the Pride (she took a medical redshirt). For some reason however, it seems that Bellocchio has been here longer, applying her craft of hard-nosed play and leadership to fuel Hofstra to some great seasons.
"It's actually just starting to hit me that I'm a senior," said Bellocchio. "I feel like I've been gaining years somehow and stealing some eligibility but I'm actually excited about being a senior and having the responsibility officially on my shoulders and I'm just ready to lead this team to the NCAA's and as far as we can go."
During her tenure, Bellocchio has slowly been climbing up the ranks as leader of the team with one of her biggest roles coming last year, commanding the offense like any point guard would.
"I want it all," said Bellocchio. "It's my job to be the coach on the floor and she [head coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey] has prepped me great these last four years. I feel like I'm really experienced and that I can handle it."
With Kilburn-Steveskey leading this team, she realizes that her point guard will be a big asset to her squad.
"Across the board, the things you don't even see that she does off the court is phenomenal," said Kilburn-Steveskey. "She leads the team in assists, she constantly makes the self-sacrifice. She'll do whatever it takes to win."
Bellocchio's teammates also realize how valuable her experiences and leadership is to the team.
"I don't think there's enough to say about Candice Bellocchio," said sophomore guard Kate Loper. "She's so special in her own way. She's just a smart basketball player and you can't really teach that to some point guards and even her leadership off the court is tremendous. She leads us in everything. And on the court we trust her so much."
"She's a think about other people before herself kind of person which is so rare," said Loper. "Along with Candice we also have great senior leadership with Nicole Capurso."
Senior guard Nicole Capurso is looking to continue the connection with Bellocchio the two have had for the past three seasons. Knowing the responsibility that is due to confront her teammate, Capurso is ready to help take part of the leadership role.
"I think my personality is naturally a come follow me kind of mentality," said Capurso. "I think now I'll be able to confidently help people because I'm comfortable where I am. I know the system, I know the coach, I know the program, I know the school so I can very strongly say come follow me and watch me. I know what I'm doing and I think it's a lot easier and natural now."
"Along with Candice, Nicole has been the face of this program," said Kilburn-Steveskey. "Physically she is in the best shape ever and mentally she is ready to have a memorable season this year and lead the squad."
Junior forward Shante Evans has brought national attention to the team this year, receiving All-American mentions and making the USA National team for the Pan American Games later in October.
Averaging a double double last season with 18.4 points per game and 11.4 rebounds, it's evident that all of the Pride's opponents will be zeroing in on Evans. It is up to the West Chester, PA native if she can lead the offense to another record-breaking season.
"I've done a lot of cardio, shooting, eating healthy and a little bit of everything on and off the court," said Evans. "Because we're getting [senior forward] Marie Malone back I won't get double and triple teamed as much as I did so hopefully I'll have a lot less pressure and it will be easier to make my first shots."
"She's a player that could tell you all the awards she has right here but instead she goes into work everyday and she is a leader and leads by example," said Kilburn -Steveskey. "To have a best player that you don't have to worry about trying to get special treatment in the world that we live in today has been an absolute joy to coach."
After a stunning freshman season that brought CAA rookie team honors, Loper is looking to develop her game not only as a sniper from beyond the arc, as she led the Pride last year with 75 three-pointers made, but to a multi-dimensional threat.
"Now that the scouting report will say Kate Loper is a shooter I'm kind of getting ready for not only shooting, but going by them and getting to the basket and also being a better distributor and rebounder that our team needs."
"She's as hungry as ever," said Kilburn-Steveskey. "They've coined her as the fastest release in the East. If you see her shoot, you can't blink and certainly can't be hand down man down so she has a pretty nice shot."
Leadership is not only found within veteran players. From fifth year seniors to sophomores, Hofstra has a well-rounded group of great athletes and great people to set the standard on how to play the game of basketball.