By Kyle Kandetzki - ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR
It was a matchup against a team they’ve beaten before, with players that have dismantled opponents in the past, but this weekend the Pride still came up one game short of a CAA crown.
The Hofstra Pride women’s soccer season came to an end on Sunday following a 2-0 loss to conference champion Northeastern Huskies.
Two days before, the Pride was able to defeat James Madison University in a thrilling 4-3 match to advance them to the title game. The team was technically still alive going into Monday – with a chance at earning an at-large big in the NCAA Tournament – but was not selected into the 64-team field
“You can’t second guess what could have been,” said head coach Simon Riddiough. “We checked the boxes we could [to earn a tournament spot], but ultimately it isn’t easy being a mid-major program.”
To start off their weekend, the Pride traveled to Boston, Mass. to face off against the second-seed James Madison Dukes. The neutral field matchup seemed to favor Hofstra, despite their lower seed, thanks to Leah Galton’s back-to-back hat tricks in previous games.
The game was truly a heavyweight bout, with no team able to get comfortable at any point in the game. James Madison opened up the game in the 5th minute with a rebound strike off of a block by Pride goalie Friederike Mehring from Dukes forward Ashley Herndon. But it was Sam Scolarici who responded just two minutes later with her own second-chance score after the first try hit off the far post.
“This was a fantastic game to [be on the sideline for],” said Riddiough. “An experience like this is hopefully something the team can use and learn for in the future.”
After Galton was the star of the previous two games, Scolarici would cement her spot as the offensive star in the 18th minute. A Dukes defender tripped up Galton, leading to a foul and a penalty kick. Scolarici would take the kick and calmly place it in the left side of the net, as the goalie went right. The potential final goal of Scolarici’s career gave her 17 on the season, and an even 50 as a member of the team.
But Hofstra’s 2-1 lead would only stay for a little over 10 minutes, as forward Katie Hyland stunned the Pride defense along with Mehring. Hyland took a deep try that sailed over Mehring and into the top of the net much to everyone’s surprise, including herself.
Going into halftime, no team showed a clear advantage with a tie score. JMU only outshot Hofstra by one, and neither team took a single corner kick.
The Galton-Scolarici duo has powered this team, and in a fitting display, Galton put the Pride back in front with her 17th goal of the season, tying her for the team-high with Scolarici. Lulu Echeverry fed Galton a great through pass that allowed Leah to pocket the ball in the left side of the net for a 63rd minute score.
One final time, the Dukes would equalize the game, with Herndon and Hyland being the key players once more. Hyland hit a deep cross from the right side that would land on the foot of Herndon to make the score 3-3 going into the final 20 minutes of the match. This was Herndon’s second of the game, but only sixth of the year, in a breakout performance for the freshman.
But Hofstra had the final strike, and in completely unexpected fashion, when Emily Agudelo stepped back for a free kick from 45 yards out.
Agudelo absolutely blasted the ball from near-midfield, over the defense and into the net to give Hofstra the go-ahead score. The team mobbed the sophomore, and piled on each other again 10 minutes later in celebration of their 4-3 victory.
“That’s what we recruited her for,” said Riddiough. “It was a great score, and that attacking is what we expect from her.”
Hofstra returned to the same pitch on Sunday afternoon, this time in enemy territory against the top-seeded Northeastern Huskies. The Huskies defense was a force throughout the regular season, giving up only six total goals to opponents, though the Pride defeated them 1-0 earlier in the year.
The Huskies showed no mercy to the commonly prolific Pride offense, only allowing three shots on target during the entire game. On the other side of the pitch, the Northeastern attack quickly put the ball in the net.
“We definitely didn’t play very well,” said Riddiough. “ The [Northeastern] defensive clan put a lot of pressure on us, and we couldn’t solve them.”
Northeastern’s top scorer Mackenzie Dowd took a header with ease off of a corner kick in the 11th minute and didn’t look back from there. Galton would get a few opportunities to respond late in the first and early in the second, including a breakaway chance in the 55th minute.
The Huskies foreshadowed a second blow to the Hofstra defense when Hannah Lopiccolo hit the inside of the top crossbar, but the ball would bounce out of the box. Lopiccolo came back just eight minutes later when the ball was poorly cleared from Mehring, intercepted by Lopiccolo, and easily booted in the net to make it 2-0.
A last-gasp effort to close the gap would be by Amber Stobbs in the 83rd minute, when a heater of a shot smacked the bar. The Huskies ran the clock out efficiently from there, and celebrated another consecutive CAA title.
“The JMU game took a lot out of us,” said Riddiough. “But you can’t take anything away from Northeastern, they are such a hard-working team.”
The defense simply wasn’t able to curtail Northeastern’s attack, leaving Mehring to have to make five saves. This was one of her more active efforts of the season, but obviously not enough, as she showed clear frustration, booting the ball away from the net following the second score.
The Pride now look ahead to the 2015 season, which they will have to do without the program’s all-time leading scorer in Sam Scolarici. Other key seniors lost will include defenders Ingrid Moyer and Caylin Dudley, as well as forward/midfielders Amber Stobbs and Lulu Echeverry, who combined for 20 points between them.
“This senior class truly did invest in what the program is all about,” said Riddiough. “These players were able to be successful on the field and off.”
The team was picked to win the conference in the pre-season, and ended up taking the third best record in the CAA. Though a title is always the goal, Riddiough says there are still positives to take from 2014.
“Considering the injuries we suffered, I’d say we were successful this year in that we were 90 minutes away from a championship,” said Riddiough. “From here we evaluate the team, see what surprised us and what disappointed, and start up recruiting for next season.”