Sometimes the journey starts off so well, like cake and caviar at a catered affair, and you believe the good times will never end. Abby Morgan and Corrine Gandolfi know this feeling all too well.
They were instrumental ingredients as the Hofstra women’s lacrosse team earned just its second ever appearance to the NCAA Tournament. It was May 2007 and Morgan was wrapping up a memorable first season as head coach after three years as an assistant. Galdolfi was the prized freshman recruit from Northport and an instant sensation.
What a debut.
Yet three seasons later, Morgan is a veteran coach and Gandolfi her senior leader, and the two are still looking to recapture that elusive magic, still looking to crash the invitation-only affair known as the NCAAs.
“I definitely felt [we’d be back],’’ Gandolfi said. “Going into my sophomore year, we were young but still had the talent to make it where we should. Then last year we were right there. Then we had one bad weekend. That ruined our chances of getting into the NCAA Tournament. So this year there is no ‘next year’ for me. It’s do or die right now.”
After two postseason-less springs, Hofstra women’s lacrosse is nationally ranked and a factor once again. The Pride improved to 5-2 with a 17-7 thrashing of Stony Brook on Wednesday, March 17. Gandolfi, a speedy midfielder, poured in five goals and added an assist. Its two losses came by a combined two goals to nationally-ranked Notre Dame and Penn, and were offset by a double-overtime win over No. 20 Rutgers.
Hofstra, ranked 19th nationally, travels to face Stanford March 31 before hosting Colonial Athletic Association rival William & Mary on April 9. The Pride head into CAA play with confidence — and an intimate sense of how things can go from right to wrong, oh so fast.
“We really don’t talk about or think about rankings,” Morgan said. “It really doesn’t matter where we’re ranked. It’s nice to get the recognition. But our team is about where we are and how we feel about where we are. And right now the feeling is we’ll continue climbing the ladder and keep improving.”
Hofstra struggled through a 7-9 season in 2008 and rebounded last spring with a 9-4 start and national ranking heading into the final week of the regular season. Then came back-to-back losses to Old Dominion and William & Mary. It dropped the Pride from first to fifth place and out of the CAA Tournament.
Morgan and Gandolfi vow not to take anything for granted this time around. Their focus is on the next ball in the back of the net.
“Without a doubt it is disappointing,” Morgan said. “You want to go back and play the games over. Last year we were playing well and were tied for first in the conference. And then two games and we’re out of it. That’s how our conference is.’’
Gandolfi isn’t accustomed to losing. She teamed with one of the great school girl athletes to ever hail from Long Island. Jill Byers starred in soccer, basketball and lacrosse at Northport High School and was one year senior to Gandolfi. But while Byers moved on to Notre Dame and became a four-time All-American, Gandolfi proved she could carry a team too.
In 2006, Gandolfi led Northport to a Suffolk Class AA title in basketball and a Class A crown in lacrosse. She was named Suffolk player of the year in lacrosse and a Newsday All-Long Island pick.
“There was so much competition in Northport, you had to be the best to play,” said Gandolfi, a physical education major.
She chose Hofstra because she wanted to stay close to home. The move paid off immediately. Morgan, then the recruiting coordinator and assistant coach, was elevated to the top job.
The rookie coach wasted little time in showcasing her top recruit. Her talent was so immense that Morgan moved a senior from midfield to attack just to get Gandolfi on the field. Gandolfi started 11 games as a freshman in 2007 and scored 24 goals, including five in the CAA title game against James Madison.
The win gave Hofstra a berth in the NCAA Tournament, something Gandolfi and her teammates have been thinking about ever since.
“It makes us want it even more,” said Gandolfi, a third-team All-American as a junior and a member of the U.S. developmental squad. “We have nine seniors. We know what it takes to get there. We’ve done it.”
It’s cake and caviar time for Hofstra women’s lacrosse. Gandolfi and Morgan won’t be satisfied with anything less.
Photos: Courtesy of Hofstra Athletics