Hofstra softball eyes repeat conference title


Hofstra’s softball team is seeking an encore from the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2018 last season with many new faces.

Led largely by five veteran fifth-year players, the Pride punched its NCAA Tournament ticket with a dramatic 5-4 walk-off conference title win in the bottom of the seventh inning against Towson after trailing by one entering the final frame. Hofstra was picked to finish third in the Coastal Athletic Association this season and coach Adrienne Clark is hoping her team is once again positioned for some postseason magic. 

“Anytime you yield success it is motivating for the incoming class,” said Clark, who as a Hofstra player led the Pride to four straight CAA titles from 2002-05.

Hofstra got a big confidence boost it can go toe-to-toe with the nation’s best when it battled then 12th-ranked Missouri on March 26 at home and took the SEC power to extra innings before falling 2-1. The late afternoon game against Missouri, which is coached by former Hofstra coach Larissa Anderson, came immediately after the Tigers crushed Fordham 20-0 on the same field that afternoon.  

“Having a top 25 team come here and have that game at home was really incredible,” said Clark, who played for Anderson when she was an assistant coach at Hofstra in the early 2000s. “It shows we are capable of beating anyone on any given day.”

Senior pitcher Julia Apsel showed why she’s the ace of the Pride staff in the Missouri gamer tossing a four-hitter over nine innings to an explosive lineup. She continued the momentum of the Missouri game with three wins during a CAA sweep North Carolina-Wilmington last weekend, where she surrendered just two runs.

Apsel is among a number of pitchers Clark can turn to in the bullpen including local high school products Marisa Ogden (Sewanhaka) and Anna Butler (Seaford.) Junior Haley Venturini, a Rhode Island native, has been working her way back from an injury suffered last season and Clark also expects her to play a key role in a deep rotation.  

“They are different types of pitchers which is positive for us because we can put them in different situations to allow for success,” Clark said. 

While Clark lost some key offensive talent from last year’s conference championship squad, the Pride returned reigning All-CAA First Team center fielder Chelsea Manto, who hit .301 with 27 stolen bases. The graduate student from Robbinsville, N.J. is on pace for another big season with a .280 average and 12 stolen bases through the first 27 games.

Senior catcher Becca Vaillancourt has emerged as the Pride’s leading hitter so far with a..373 average with five home runs while also leading the pitching staff behind the plate. Olivia Malinowski and Aliya Catanzarita have also been big producers at the plate early on this season displaying home run power at times. 

Sophomore shortstop Alanna Morse, a Mepham High School graduate, is another big focal point of the Hofstra offense after earning CAA All-Rookie Team honors as a freshman with 46 hits including a double in the NCAA Tournament against top-ranked Oklahoma. The North Bellmore native has also blossomed into a solid defensive player anchoring the middle infield. 

“She has been so incredible at shortstop this year with some of the plays she has made,” said Clark of Morse. “The ball rarely gets by her in the infield.” 

Freshman right fielder Lily Yepez, a former Mepham teammate of Morse, has also emerged as a key bat in the lineup and was fifth on the team in batting to close the month of March. The North Bellmore native helped lead the Pirates to three county championships and two Long Island titles. 

The Pride faces Long Island rival Stony Brook in another crucial three-game CAA series from April 12-14. The final home conference games are slated for April 26-28 against Hampton. 

The CAA Tournament is May 8-11 at UMC-Wilmington where the Pride will look to defend its crown. Hofstra entered the week tied for second in the CAA standings at 8-4 with 15 conference games remaining.