Hofstra University is an international institution of higher learning. With students from 75 countries currently enrolled in the University, there is no challenging that statement. But if there is one country, excluding student-athletes from the United States, that has made a big impact on the Hofstra University Men’s Lacrosse program over the years, that country would have to be our neighbors from the north, Canada.
This Hofstra-Canadian Connection has continued recently with several Canadian natives on the Pride roster led by senior attackman Josh Byrne, who currently leads the fourth-ranked and undefeated Hofstra team with career-highs of 29 goals, 21 assists and 50 points through ten games.
Some from the metropolitan area may jokingly consider student-athletes from the frozen tundra of western New York-areas surrounding Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo-Canadians. But the fact remains that they are not…very much to the contrary. While “upstate New York” players bring their own bit of talent to the game of college lacrosse, Canadian players bring their unique style and flair that has excited fans at many institutions for decades.
Since the late 1980s, Hofstra has been blessed to have a number of Canadian players make their way to the Long Island campus. British Columbia native, Jon Cooper, who would have an outstanding four-year career at Hofstra, started it off. Cooper would go on to pursue a career in coaching his country’s national sport-hockey-and becoming the head coach of the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning.
More recently in the mid-2000s, another western Canadian, Athan Iannucci tallied 146 points over his three-year career with the Pride including a school-record and Division I-leading 62 goals in 2006 during Hofstra’s 17-2 campaign.
Just a couple of years later, Ontario-native Jay Card would begin another illustrious career that would see him record the fifth-most points (183) in a Hofstra career and become a three-time All-American honorable mention and a four-time All-Colonial Athletic Association selection.
Playing alongside Card was another countryman in Jamie Lincoln, a Denver University-transfer, who would earn two all-conference honors and lead the team in goals in 2010 and 2011 and total points in 2010. Adrian Sorichetti, an Ontario native, would follow and lead the Pride in goals, assists and points on the way to All-CAA first team honors in 2012.
“To be able to compete at the highest level of collegiate lacrosse and represent the Hofstra Lacrosse program was a dream come true and complete honor,” Card said. “Since stepping off the lacrosse field, the qualities that I have acquired over my tenure at Hofstra University have forever changed me. The life lessons, the highs and lows, the adversity, the struggles, the success, have shaped me into the person I am today.”
Sorichetti echoes Card’s sentiments. “The coaching staff, players, and entire athletic and academic community made playing for the Pride a memorable one,” Sorichetti said. “Every day you are training together, practicing together, and in some cases, going to class together. You become more like a family than teammates. I am a firm believer in how sports teach you almost everything in life and in the workplace. How to handle success, how to handle defeat, how to work as a team, how to set and meet team objectives, how to improve as a player, motivating teammates to accomplish something, the list goes on. By attending Hofstra and having the privilege of playing lacrosse there, the life lessons I learned on and off the field are still a crucial component to my everyday life.”
Hofstra Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach Seth Tierney knows why Hofstra’s Canadian Connection works for both parties. “Canadian players must have the fundamentals for the box game,” Tierney said. “The way that they train as kids, the little intricacies of shooting and the aspects of picking and rolling and using your body. There is also no room for error in box lacrosse shooting and passing. They have a good experience here at Hofstra. They are able to succeed in the classroom and we certainly try to adjust how we play with them.”
Josh Byrne, a native of New Westminster, British Columbia, is the Pride’s latest standout and one of three Canadians on the 2017 Hofstra roster. While countrymen Brier Davis (Caledon, Ontario) and Tyler Fleury (Edmonton, Alberta) have seen their careers hampered by injuries, Byrne has excelled in his two seasons at Hofstra since transferring from neighboring Nassau Community College.
But he wasn’t always the confident player that he is today. Several years ago, Byrne had some questions whether he was a player when he joined the British Columbia Junior Lacrosse League’s A Division in New Westminster. “I scored 56 goals and 56 assists that season and we went to the finals,” Byrne says. “I was named the BCJLL Rookie of the Year so that alleviated some of my fears.” As a senior, Byrne would be named the Most Valuable Player of the league after posting 41 goals and 38 assists.
Byrne would go cross continent in his pursuit of playing big-time college lacrosse. “I always wanted to play Division I lacrosse and I loved the idea of being in the metropolitan area,” he said. “A Hofstra alum passed my name to Coach Tierney and he said that Nassau Community College would be a great place to prepare me for the transition to Division I.”
An All-American and the NJCAA Attackman of the Year in 2015 for the Lions, Byrne was a key part of Nassau’s undefeated regular season. But the wheels came off in the semifinals against Essex CC. “We were a bit cocky going into the playoffs and thought we were going to roll over them,” Byrne admits. “Essex dominated us until the last eight minutes. We were down by six but made a comeback to close to 17-16. We had a chance to tie it but the shot went wide.”
While there was interest in Byrne at Nassau, he knew he was going to Hofstra. He then made the short trip down Earle Ovington Boulevard to Hofstra to start his Division I career. But the transition was not easy. “Everyone is so much stronger in Division I,” Byrne said. “Guys are in weight programs for four years. You are playing with men. On top of that, everyone can play. It’s more of a battle.”
Byrne also had to adjust to the schedule of a Division I student-athlete. “It was all different for me,” Byrne said. “But I adapted and learned to love it. It taught a lot about how to be a better person and taught me a lot of life skills.”
Adapt he did as he recorded the triple crown of scoring on the team, leading the Pride in goals (30), assists (15) and points (45) in 15 games in 2016. He earned All-CAA first team honors and was a Tewaaraton Award Watch List selection. But the Pride had their season ended by Fairfield in the CAA semifinals. “I didn’t like the way that the 2016 season ended,” Byrne says. “Nobody did. I came into this year and I wanted it to be different. Whether it was how I approached different issues or anything else. I just needed it to happen this year.”
“Josh’s whole demeanor has changed this year,” Coach Tierney says. “Last year, he walked into a special situation where Sam Llinares was so well-known and established as one of our leaders. Then throw in Brian von Bargen, Korey Hendrickson and Finn Sullivan down the other end on defense. He was just trying to find his role on the team. His natural role is that of a leader. So he has stepped up to be more of himself in 2017.”
This season, he has helped lead the Pride to a school-record 9-0 start while leading the team in goals, assists and points and being put back on the 2017 Tewaaraton Watch list for his final year. After posting four games with three goals or more including a season-high five goals against Princeton in 2016, he has tallied five games with a hat-trick or better in 2017. Included was a seven-goal game at home against New Jersey Institute of Technology in February.
As if his scoring ability wasn’t enough to have opponents concerned, Byrne has sharpened his already-outstanding passing skills to the point that he has posted multiple assists in eight of the nine games this year. He has also added the title of co-Captain with defensive midfielder Tommy Voelkel to his resume for 2017.
“It is very humbling to be shown that kind of respect from the coaches and players by being named captain,” Byrne says. “Obviously, it put more weight on Tom’s and my shoulders. We want to do what is best for the team and we want to do it well.”
In addition to Coach Tierney, Byrne’s teammates took notice of his attitude adjustment. “When Josh came in last year he was a phenomenal player and wowed a lot of people,” Voelkel said. “But I think the biggest difference between last year and this year is just his maturity on the field. Everyone in the country knows he is one of the best at what he does. He draws the best defenseman and draws the quick slide. At times when he is getting attacked all over the field, he makes one more pass or does the little things that show his maturity.”
Junior midfielder Dylan Alderman has noticed the difference and has taken some tips from Byrne. “Last year, Josh was just getting used to playing Division I lacrosse,” Alderman said. “This year he has a real feel for it and understands his role and everyone’s role on the team. He has really come into a leadership role. He has taught me a couple of things on the field with shooting and how to read defenses. His ability to draw defenders, allows me to get open and makes my life a lot easier.”
“It’s much easier sharing the responsibility of being captain with Josh,” Voelkel says. “It’s defense and offense with us. I’m more of a structured, organizational guy and Josh is more of an out on the field leadership guy. It is a great balance. Josh is a big, game-day guy. He gets the boys going in the locker room and is a phenomenal guy to be around before a game because of his swagger and his approach toward the contest.”
“I have tried to keep a more level-head this year,” Byrne says. “Last year, we had some very big highs and some lows. There were times that I got super excited and may have let that go to my head a bit.”
But while his days at Hofstra are not finished, hopefully, until late May, Byrne already had designated his proudest moment to date. “It would have to be beating UNC this year for the second time,” Byrne says proudly. “To go back down there and beat them again was a great feeling. It showed it wasn’t a fluke. We were the harder-working team and executed better.”
While his college career is winding down Byrne has an idea what is next for him. “I want to grow the game after college,” Byrne says. “The more people get to see lacrosse, the more they will love it. I want to coach and teach kids the right things to do at a young age. I had some great coaches as a youth, especially Jamie Stewart and Steve Goodwin. They both helped me out so much. They probably played the biggest roles in making me the player that I am today. I want to pay it forward.”
But for now there is more lacrosse to be played for Byrne and the Pride. “It’s been a crazy ride for me,” Byrne said. “I would have to say that I have had a pretty great experience at Hofstra.”
WRITTEN BY: Jim Sheehan, Hofstra University Office of Athletic Communications