LI Pulse: Hofstra Softball

February 1, 2009 by admin 

February 2009 issue of LI Pulse magazine.

Title: Hofstra Softball
Publication: Long Island Pulse magazine
Author: Jason Molinet
Date: February 2009
Start Page: 54
Word Count: 910
 
It begins with alarm clocks blaring at 5 a.m. While the rest of Hofstra University remains sequestered in sleep, a small group of dedicated young women trek down to the locker room and then practice bubble that was once home to the New York Jets.

The Hempstead campus has yet to stir as Casey Fee and her softball teammates get their heart beats racing while pushing through endurance sprints on the field turf. There are weight training sessions too. All done before the first class of the day.

“It’s so cliché, but we work our asses off,’’ said Fee, a senior second baseman and former Long Beach standout.

Olivia Galati sat in on a few of the sweat-drenched sessions and knew this place was special – once she got past the initial shock. The St. John the Baptist senior is one of the best high school pitchers Long Island has produced in the last two decades.

So landing her would be a real coup. But how many teenagers eagerly sign up for such self-inflicted punishment?

 “Athletes on campus, we all know each other and they have respect for us,’’ senior pitcher Kayleigh Lotti said. “They see us train. They hear stories about how hard we work. But regular students? Not a lot of people know how good we are.’’

This is Hofstra softball. Bill Edwards enters his 20th season at the helm of the preeminent college program on Long Island — and University of Connecticut women’s basketball aside — perhaps the most consistent wins factory in the Northeast. It certainly holds claim to another distinction: the best team you’ve never heard of.

Consider what the Pride did last spring. Hofstra won a school-record 45 games and set an NCAA softball record by capturing the program’s 11th straight conference championship.

All that success is winning over fans. Galati signed a letter of intent with Hofstra in November. She represents an even brighter future. “They win the conference every year. I had a gut feeling I belong at Hofstra,’’ Galati said. “My goal — we — want to make it to the College World Series. We’re going to shoot for that.’’

It wasn’t always this way. Hofstra softball has a checkered past, and a history going back to 1951.

Karen Andreone, the athletic director at Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset, remembers her stint at Hofstra well. Her team beat then-powerhouse Adelphi and won a New York state softball title in 1979. After an assistant coach was downsized and scholarship money siphoned off, according to Andreone, she left following the 1980 season and the program endured a mostly-lost decade.

“After I left, my former players called me crying,’’ said Andreone, who went 36-24 as Hofstra coach from 1978-80. “The program was so awful.’’

Andreone’s departure coincided with growing pains on campus. But the University not only recovered, today it thrives as one of the top private institutions in the Northeast.

Softball bounced back too — eventually. The program went 16-22 in 1989, the year before Edwards jumped from Commack High School to the college game. What he stepped into was a mess. But school administrators were committed and backed Edwards the entire way.

“When I took over, there was an old pitching machine, a bucket of balls and a few bats,’’ Edwards said. “I had one-and-a-half scholarships. And that’s it. It was ridiculous.’’

While Edwards had no prior college experience, he transformed Hofstra softball as the sport grew nationally. College softball is still dominated by the West Coast powers. An Arizona or California school has won 22 of the last 25 NCAA Division I national championships.

Times are changing. Louisiana-Lafayette reached the College World Series last season, becoming the first small-conference program to crash the party. Hofstra could be the next.

“It is one of the fastest growing sports around the country,’’ Edwards said. “There’s soccer. And softball is right behind it. Kids are turning out for softball. Summer leagues are exploding. Back in the day, there were two summer teams on Long Island. Today there are 75.’’

A broader talent pool helps. But everyone, from Edwards on down, points to conditioning and coaching as the key to the Pride’s rise from mid-major conference contenders to players on the national stage.

“We teach the fundamentals and then discipline those fundamentals,’’ Edwards said. He’s is so highly regarded that Edwards flies around the country teaching courses for the National Fastpitch Coaches College.

Aside from pre-dawn workouts during the off-season, there’s practice each afternoon. The fundamentals of the game become second nature as a result. Situational awareness grows instinctive. And all the hard work creates an attitude that’s impossible to miss.

The Pride came just one win away from a berth in the College World Series in 2004 and hosted an NCAA Regional last spring. With the bulk of the team back, Hofstra opens the new season with its best opportunity yet. Its quest begins Feb. 13 in Tampa against Illinois. The home opener is March 26 against Rutgers (free admission).

Lotti, the two time Colonial Athletic Association pitcher of the year, is a hard-throwing windmiller in a sport where pitching dominates. Fee is one of three all-conference hitters returning. While each plays to their strengths, there’s a common denominator coursing through them.

It’s a fellowship only an athlete or a soldier could understand.

“We’re the scrappy players from the Northeast,’’ Fee said. “Teams know we’ll never give up. We’ve got that extra edge.’’

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