By Mike Rudin -- SPORTS EDITOR
The Colonial Athletic Association hosted a couple of dynasties dating back to the 2006-07 season, as well as the start of Krista Kilburn-Steveskey’s head coaching career with the Hofstra Pride women’s basketball team. But now in the last few years, the conference has begun to open up and the Pride is taking advantage.
Hofstra appeared in the CAA championship for the first time ever in the 2014-15 season. Despite the bittersweet ending by losing to James Madison University, Hofstra has potential for the upcoming season.
“This was my favorite year in a long time that I really enjoyed coaching a team from top to bottom. The players really got along, there was good chemistry,” said Kilburn-Steveskey. “[The] people had a genuine happiness for everybody who did well [on the team].”
Kilburn-Steveskey made it to the big dance for the first time during her nine years at the helm with the Pride, dating back to her first year starting in 2006.
The newly appointed head coach came in and dealt with tough competition and conference rivals winning consecutive CAA titles.
“[I was] building the program in a very tough conference like we’ve been in,” said Kilburn-Steveskey. “A good way to reflect back on conference is to kind of think about the nine-year journey because you had Old Dominion in the first two of my nine years.”
The former CAA rival was a member of the conference until 2013 and won back-to-back CAA championships in the first two seasons with Kilburn-Steveskey as Hofstra’s head coach. The team concluded a dynasty of 17 straight conference titles since 1992.
Drexel University won the championship the next year, and then JMU took over the next two years as Kilburn-Steveskey tried to put her team on the map.
Hofstra jumped all over the place during Kilburn-Steveskey’s first three years, from 26-8 overall in 2006 to 5-25 in 2007, then leveled out to 16-14 by the end of 2008-09 season.
Then, Hofstra greats Shante Evans and Candace Bond joined the Pride in the 2009-10 season and Kilburn-Stevesky utilized them to create consistent success with three straight seasons with at least 19 wins.
“When we had Shante [Evans] 2011 was a great year, we came so close and we fell short,” said Kilburn-Steveskey. “2012-13 was her senior year, her and [Candice] Bond were back, they were great leaders.”
Shante Evans is the all-time points leader and the only Pride player to break the 2,000-point mark with 2,116 in a Hofstra uniform. Candace Bond had one of the best defensive skillsets and mindset. She has the second most steals with 291 in Hofstra history.
But Delaware thwarted Hofstra’s efforts during that time with the emergence of Elena Della Donne.
“The last four years, Delaware dominated the league because three of Della Donne’s four years they’ve went to the tournament,” said Krista Kilburn-Steveskey.
The Pride went through a period of time when they competed for the championship, but Delaware was their kryptonite for several years.
Since 2009, Hofstra lost 13 straight matchups against the Fightin’ Blue Hens over six regular seasons, including the loss in 2012-13 CAA semi-finals.
“2013-14 was when [Anma] Onyeuku and Annie [Payton] were seniors. We didn’t have a lot of depth in the post and we were young. Kelly [Loftus] was a freshman and Elo [Edeferioka] was a freshman,” said Kilburn-Steveskey.
The roster breakdown for the Pride during the previous season consisted of two seniors, two juniors, seven sophomores and three freshmen.
The lack of depth hindered Hofstra’s bid in the conference and finished the season with a 14-15 and an early exit in the quarterfinals of the 2014 CAA tournament.
In spite of that, the 2013-14 season showed the CAA was starting to break the trend of one top dog in the conference overall. The 2014-15 season brought new life into the Pride and the potential that they can win their first CAA title in the future.
“It’s kind of nice to see [the conference open up] last season and this past season, 2013-14, [and] 2014-15, it’s like the lid has been lifted and it’s anybody’s conference,” said Kilburn-Steveskey. “Yes, JMU has been pushed to be a forefront but it still doesn’t have the same type of skill you have one dominant team.”
The recipe for Hofstra’s success consisted of the development between three freshmen from the previous season, Kelly Loftus, Elo Edeferioka and Krystal Luciano, the rise of the freshman phenom Ashunae Durant and the additions of Darius Faulk and Anjie White.
“Krystal was put into a position as a freshman to have to play and start at the point,” said Kilburn-Steveskey. “But I thought she handled it extremely well… She’s a playmaker and she was a very exciting player to watch, even as a freshman.”
Loftus flourished as Hofstra’s top scorer in 2014-15 after her rookie campaign consisted of nagging injuries that limited her abilities in 2013-14.
Edeferioka made strides in her freshman season as the team’s leading rebounder on the defensive side. Her time during the 2013-14 season played as a developmental stage, transitioning to the colligate level as well as the competing within the conference.
White and Faulk became key components by the second half of the season and during the conference tournament.
“It took her a little while to get going because of the CAA conference but she got going and she was bearer to reckon with… I think Anjie is going to make a big difference next year,” said Kilburn-Steveskey. “You [also] just got to love Darius, I believe she should be CAA defensive player of the year as a senior next year and she has a great shot.”
With all the depth on the roster and the team coming together, Durant played a huge role for the Pride as an offensive and defensive catalyst. She was one of the top three Pride players in points, field goals, rebounds and blocked shots.
The CAA rookie of the year, Mid-Major freshman of the year, and MET-rookie of the year won several other awards for her stellar first season with the Pride, and Kilburn-Steveskey hasn’t had a player excel in her rookie year like Durant since Evans was on the team.
“People wanted to ask me if she [would] come in and do that [well]. I challenged her on that but when you sit down and recruit, you’re not going to say, ‘Hey, freshman you can come in and do this,’ but you give her a platform she and just kind of outdid it,” said Kilburn-Steveskey. “So that’s what I was most proud about with her, very similar to Shante in that respect.”
Durant made great first impressions prior to the 2014-15 season and the nine-year head coach was excited to watch her compete.
“I’ve been watching her in preseason workouts [and] I’ve been just dying [in anticipation],” said Kilburn-Steveskey. “The kid is absolutely amazing. She has so much athleticism, so much skill wrapped together that it’s ridiculous.”
After the historic tournament run in 2015, Hofstra is poised to hit the ground running for next year. With the core consisting of mostly sophomores and freshmen, Hofstra has a bright future for the next couple of seasons.
“It’s definitely been kind of uncharted territory for me. For one, to play in the CAA championship game [in 2014-15] for the first time in Hofstra history. Number two, to have the nucleus of our team coming back,” said Kilburn-Steveskey. “They’re excited, they know and they believe they can win this thing. So, that is half of your battle and now you have to put in the work and you got to make the sacrifice but they truly believe they can do it.”