As low seed, Hofstra looks to make splash in CAA tourney
This probably isn’t quite what fans of the Hofstra men’s lacrosse team expected to see when the regular season came to an end and the CAA’s top four teams gathered to compete for a conference title and a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
This time last year, Hofstra was on the heels of a historic regular season, holding the distinction of being the last remaining undefeated team in the nation while rising as high as second in the national rankings. When it came time for the CAA tourney, teams were coming to Hempstead and looking at Hofstra as the top seed. Of course, the Pride’s NCAA tournament aspirations came to an end after a shocking semifinal exit thanks to the University of Massachusetts (UMass).
Now one season removed from all of 2017’s buzz, the Pride find themselves in a very different spot. Hofstra will head up to Massachusetts as the No. 4 seed, the low seed in the tournament. There were no NCAA rankings, no impressive records for Hofstra this season. Instead, this team heads to the tournament with a 6-7 record (2-3 in the CAA) and having lost three of their last four contests.
Awaiting the Pride in the semifinals will be the Minutemen of UMass, the same team that sent Hofstra packing last year. This year’s UMass squad is even better than the team Hofstra lost to in 2017, coming in to tournament play with a perfect 5-0 CAA mark to go along with a No. 16 ranking nationally.
These two teams also clashed in the season finale on Friday, April 27, with the Minutemen easily handling the Pride by a 14-6 final score.
The odds seem stacked against Hofstra this year. Of the three other teams in the field this year, Hofstra lost to UMass as well as the University of Delaware. The only tourney team that Hofstra beat was Towson University, and even though this year’s Towson team wasn’t as formidable as in years past, the Tigers are always a threat and have always given Hofstra trouble.
So what’s got to happen in order for Hofstra to beat the odds and advance to their first NCAA Tournament since 2011?
While the opening-round matchup with UMass serves as a tall order, it’s never easy to beat a team twice in a row. Hofstra was outplayed by the Minutemen on Saturday, but now head coach Seth Tierney has film to study, mistakes to notice and adjustments to make. Hofstra will undoubtedly be better prepared for UMass on Thursday, and in a tournament atmosphere, the Pride will stand a much better chance of pulling off an upset.
However, if Hofstra wants to flip the script and send the Minutemen packing on Thursday, there are a few things that the Pride need to improve in order to do so.
For starters, the Hofstra offense has got to come to play on Thursday. The Pride possess some of the most talented scorers in the conference, namely with sophomore Ryan Tierney. Ryan Tierney has 27 goals and 22 assists this season, and has been a versatile part of Hofstra’s attack all season long. The Pride also have capable options in Jimmy Yanes, Dylan Alderman and Dylan McIntosh
The issue this season has been consistency and health with a few of those guys, and as a result, Hofstra ranks last in the CAA in goals per game, while UMass sits at the top.
A good mark for Hofstra to shoot for on Thursday is 10 goals. In games where the Pride have scored 10 goals or more this season, they are 4-0. In games where they score nine goals or less, they’re just 2-7.
Hofstra’s got a good back line and the best goalie in the CAA (and Tewaaraton Award semifinalist) in Jack Concannon, so they shouldn’t worry about losing a shootout or giving up 14 goals again. With a game against UMass already under his belt this season, Concannon will make the necessary adjustments and limit the Minutemen’s scoring this time around. He’s going to need help from Hofstra’s offense though, in order to pull the upset.
Hofstra’s also got to play a complete lacrosse game in order to compete on Thursday. In Hofstra’s losses this season, it’s often been a bad start or a late-game letdown that’s been the Pride’s demise.
In the first game of the season, Hofstra fell behind Ohio State University 5-0 before losing 9-7. In losses to Lehigh University and Fairfield University, the Pride let fourth-quarter leads slip away.
In the UMass game from Saturday, Hofstra was outscored 5-0 in the second quarter, after being behind by just a goal at the end of the first quarter. These runs that the Pride seem prone to are troublesome, and in a game where the mentality has to be “win or go home,” one lapse could be the end of Hofstra’s season.
That mentality also has its advantages though. Last year, the burden of expectations weighed heavily on the Pride, with a potential at-large bid to the NCAA tourney being discussed. This year, there will be no at-large bid. Hofstra’s only conceivable road to the NCAAs is by winning the CAA championship.
Without all that added pressure and scrutiny that last year’s team found themselves saddled with, Hofstra is free to just focus on the task at hand. UMass now finds themselves in a very similar spot to the one the Pride were in last season, and it’s possible that the same burden of expectations proves too much for the Minutemen to bear.
This is a program hungry for a CAA crown. In recent years, Hofstra has come up short a time or two. A frankly mediocre regular season has led the Pride to this point, a No. 4-seed with a less than .500 conference record looking to shake up the system and get to the NCAAs.
That run starts on Thursday night, and it starts with the Pride looking to knock off a top seed on their own home field, in a script that mirrors last year’s CAA Tournament to an eerie degree.
Hofstra doesn’t want to change that script. They would very much love to see a triumphant underdog celebrating while the defeated No. 1 seed somberly trudges off the field. This year, though, for Seth Tierney and company, Garber Field has to be the place and Hofstra has to be the team on the right end of that celebration.