LINCOLN — Having played on and coached teams that made NCAA tournament appearances in Lincoln, Hofstra coach Emily Mansur admitted that she hoped the selection committee would let her sample a different part of the country.
“We have been talking since we saw the selection show that Nebraska is the best environment to play in,” Mansur said. “But to be honest, I was hoping to go somewhere else.”
Not that the fifth-year coach has anything against bringing her team to play in front of a sellout crowd at the Devaney Center on Friday. But with Nebraska having won 34 straight NCAA first-round matches, the Pride are looking for positives that go beyond an upset bid.
“It’s a big chance,” Mansur said. “It’s a great chance to go to a location to understand the atmosphere they’re going to encounter. To really showcase and work for Hofstra’s name. To be able to represent and to be able to grow our university.”
The Pride’s last NCAA berth in 2014 also earned them a trip to Lincoln, where they forced two deuce games in Nebraska’s 27-25, 25-23, 25-16 win.
The four seniors on this year’s team arrived at the Hempstead, New York, school the next year. This season, they helped Hofstra (25-7) win the Colonial Athletic Association tournament to earn an NCAA bid. Mansur, who also made an NCAA tournament appearance in Lincoln as a player with Iona in 2004, credits the maturity of her seniors as a big factor in the team’s success.
“You see that over the years,” Mansur said. “If you have a leadership group that gets to the end (of their careers), they’ll have a tremendous pull to make (a postseason berth) happen.”
Hofstra’s seniors, the coach said, have been especially valuable in setting the culture and expectations in a program that often requires some adjustment for newcomers. Mansur, who is from Brazil and has previous coaching experience in Portugal, has built the Pride on international recruits.
Eleven of Hofstra’s 15 players are from outside the U.S., with players representing Puerto Rico, Italy, Germany, Serbia, Croatia, the Netherlands and Czech Republic.
International players often come to Hofstra having played in rigid club structures, which can take some adaptation to Mansur and her staff’s style. That’s one of the reasons why they picked the motto “One Family” for the program.
“I think that’s the beautiful thing about our group,” Mansur said. “It really is the understanding that when they come to New York, it’s the melting pot of the United States. That’s what we say of Hofstra.
“When they get here, they have to understand the best way is the way we do it at Hofstra University.”
To earn the CAA’s automatic bid, the Pride had to win a pair of five-setters over Towson and James Madison after splitting matches against both in the regular season.
Junior outside hitter Laura Masciullo was named the CAA tournament’s most outstanding player after putting down 25 kills in the championship match against James Madison. Masciullo, from La Spezia, Italy, leads Hofstra with 3.68 kills per set.
“Laura is our terminator,” Mansur said. “Our three-rotation outside that needs to produce when she’s in the front row and get some kills for us.”
The CAA final also was a career best for junior setter Luisa Sydlik, whose 68 assists were the most by a Hofstra player in 18 seasons. Sydlik is from Germany, and her mother Kathrin was a member of the East German team at the 1988 Olympics.
“Luisa has a very professional mentality,” Mansur said. “It doesn’t matter how she’s feeling, she comes to work. You can never tell if she’s having a good day or bad day.”
Freshman opposite hitter Aisha Skinner (3.25 kills/set), from Germany, and Italian senior middle blocker Michela Rucli (20 kills in the CAA tournament final) also are major factors in the attack.
One of the challenges for Hofstra, one Mansur welcomes, is making her international players understand why an NCAA tournament berth is important. The priority on the postseason is often somewhat foreign to players unfamiliar with the structure of American sports. In many of their local leagues, the regular-season championship is the prize.
They’ll understand soon enough. Walking onto the Devaney floor at 7 p.m. Friday in front of 8,000 sends a message that needs no translation.
“We are fortunate to have the experience, but we’re not just going for the experience,” Mansur said. “We’re going to play our best volleyball and provide some entertainment.”
NCAA Tournament: Hofstra at Nebraska
When: 6 p.m. Friday
Where: Bob Devaney Sports Center
Radio: 1600 AM, 105.5 FM