Luke Brown is expected to carry some of Hofstra’s scoring load. (Photo courtesy of Hofstra SID)

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – After claiming the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season title for the second consecutive season in 2016, the Hofstra University men will try to make it three in a row this year.

“We’ve got to first and foremost challenge for the CAA title,” said head coach Richard Nuttall, returning for his 29th season. “That’s the main route to the NCAAs. We’ve got to learn from the at-large games. We’re playing one of probably the top-10 schedules in the country. It’s going to be difficult.”

The Pride boasts a solid group of returners from last year’s title team, including reigning CAA rookie of the year and leading scorer Luke Brown. Alongside Brown will be preseason All-CAA selection and 2016 All-CAA second-team honoree Danny Elliott and first-team pick Meshack Eshun Addy, both seniors looking to lead the way for the team.

Hofstra also welcomes a slew of new talent, including three transfers and six true freshmen who have had impressive high school careers.

“It’s an eternal challenge of inculcating new players into the team,” said Nuttall of bringing in nine new faces. “The attitude’s been good, and I think the camaraderie and the chemistry has been good in practice. All those factors help in your evolution as a team. We know we’ve got some work to do, but we do believe we can do some damage going forward.”

FORWARD

Brown returns to lead the Pride’s attack once again after topping the team in 2016, posting eight goals and 18 points.

Nuttall hopes that Brown can continue to produce and develop in his sophomore season. “I think he’s looked after his body and gotten a bit fitter and faster and stronger, so hopefully we’ll get a little bit more out of him,” Nuttall said. “He’s a natural goal-scorer. He’s very sneaky and crafty in the box. We’re expecting great things from him.”

Freshman Matthew Vowinkel will also compete for time up top after a successful high school career at Chaminade. Vowinkel scored 86 goals in 85 high school games, earning NSCAA All-America recognition.

“[Vowinkel] is a different type of player than Luke,” Nuttall said. “He’s more crash-bang-wallop attack across. In the box, he’s definitely effective, and we expect time from him.”

Fellow Long Island product Mario Licari and senior Pablo Casado could also bolster the team’s depth at forward.

MIDFIELD

Despite losing one of the Pride’s most prolific producers in Joseph Holland, Hofstra is arguably deepest through the midfield, with a corps of experienced returners as well as a number of newcomers who will be vying for time.

Now seniors, Eshun Addy and Elliott will be relied on to continue to produce statistically, with both posting six goals in 2016. Eshun Addy also added a pair of assists and led the team in game-winning goals with three.

“I hope both of them win us some games with their old-fashioned wing play,” Nuttall said of Eshun Addy and Elliott. “Hopefully their soccer IQ is increasing and they’ll remain contributors to the team.”

Senior Jon Fraser, junior transfer Marcus Lindqvist and freshmen Storm Strongin and Andrea Codispoti could also compete for time on the wing.

Classmate Mani Walcott returns to central midfield after earning an All-CAA third team nod last season. He could be joined by CAA All-rookie team selection Adam Savill and fellow sophomore Oscar Ramsay.

Hofstra also has brought in several newcomers who will bolster the team’s depth and compete for a starting slot in the middle. Transfers Hampus Agerstrom(Kentucky) and Gustavo Nascimento (Iowa Lakes Community) bring collegiate experience to the Pride, while freshmen Strongin, Jack Nuttall and George O’Malley offer talent and potential and have been strong in preseason.

DEFENSE

The Pride will be tasked with replacing three of its starting defenders from a season ago after losing Nino Alfonso, Rory Murphy and CAA Defensive Player of the Year Harri Hawkins to graduation.

Junior Sean Nealis is Hofstra’s lone returning starter on the backline, starting all 18 games last season and rarely leaving the field. Nealis likely will be joined by senior Nick Bigilin, who Nuttall noted has been showing well in preseason practice.

The Pride also has capable options in Lindqvist, a St. John’s transfer with Division I experience, sophomore Genarro Vilardi and newcomer Marc Rodriguez. O’Malley and Codispoti also could factor in on the backline.

GOALKEEPER

Junior Alex Ashton returns as the incumbent starter for the Pride after a solid first season in net. Ashton made 14 appearances and 10 starts a season ago, going 6-6 and posting 26 saves and a 1.55 goals-against average.

Junior Leonard Arkhanhelskyi and senior Thomas Germano will compete for the backup spot. Arkhanhelskyi also gained valuable game experience last season, going 3-2-1 and recording a 0.95 goals-against average in nine appearances. Germano, a local product, returns to the Pride after spending the 2014 and 2015 seasons on the Hofstra roster.

SCHEDULE

Nuttall has once again assembled a challenging schedule for the Pride.

“I am very excited about the level of competition on our schedule,”  Nuttall said. “Strength of schedule is important, and we look forward to the challenge.”

Hofstra opens the season on the road for four straight games, playing the season opener Aug. 25 at Penn State before heading to Maryland Aug. 28. The Terrapins entered the 2016 NCAA Tournament as the top seed and are ranked No. 6 to start the season.

Hofstra then takes on Virginia Aug. 28, the No. 12 seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament and currently ranked No. 13.

Hofstra then takes on a pair of local rivals, concluding its season-opening road trip at St. John’s Sept. 5 before hosting Stony Brook for the home opener Sept. 9.

Hofstra then travels to another nationally ranked opponent, heading to No. 24 Connecticut Sept. 12 to take on the Huskies.

CAA play begins Sept. 16 when Elon makes the trip to Hempstead. The Pride then hosts non-conference foe Columbia Sept. 19.

Hofstra heads to conference foe Charleston Sept. 23 before returning to host Northeastern Sept. 27. The Pride treks to James Madison Sept. 30, then faces Ivy League opponent Dartmouth at home Oct. 3.

Defending CAA Tournament champion Delaware returns to Hofstra Soccer Stadium Oct. 7. The Pride then plays a pair of conference road games, heading to Drexel Oct. 11 and preseason favorite William & Mary Oct. 14. Hofstra closes CAA play at home against UNCW Oct. 21.

The Pride will matchup with a pair of non-conference foes to close the season, heading to Binghamton Oct. 25 before honoring the senior class in the finale against Brown at home Oct. 31.

The CAA quarterfinals will take place Nov. 4, with the regular-season champion hosting the semifinals and championship Nov. 10 and 12, respectively.