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Hofstra aiming to make first NCAA Women’s Tournament

Hofstra forward Ashunae Durant shoots during women's basketball

Hofstra forward Ashunae Durant shoots during women's basketball practice at Hofstra University on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016.

What Hofstra women’s basketball is missing from its resume is an appearance in the NCAA Division I Tournament. It hopes to add that this season, which begins Friday at home against Marist.

Junior forward Ashunae Durant is Hofstra’s top performer- — the Pride’s biggest name player. “I met other people with the name, but it’s spelled completely different,’’ Durant said, adding that her mom and uncle came up with the spelling. “So, probably I am the only person in the world with that name.’’

No one bothers to figure out the pronunciation, everyone just calls her Nae. Her surname also has basketball cachet and she admires Kevin Durant of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.

The 5-10 Durant, from Newark followed Shante Evans, another big name player at Hofstra, and Durant was named CAA rookie of the year in the 2014-15 season. She is averaging 11.2 points and 8.0 rebounds over two seasons. She was selected to the all-CAA second time last season.

Hofstra went 25-9 last season and won two games in the WNIT. It was the fifth appearance in that tournament for coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey (178-139) in 10 years at Hofstra.

“I think we want a CAA championship so bad,’’ Durant said. “Winning a CAA championship not only for us but also for coach (Krista Kilburn-Steveskey) would make what we do on the court pay off.’’

Durant and senior guard Krystal Luciano (9.0. 4.8) are the key returning players. “This year is going to push Krystal and Nae the most,’’ Kilburn-Steveskey said. “They’ve had a lot of other veterans to kind of do their role, now it’s those two trying to bring everybody else along. You’re going to have to give a little more of yourself. They’re embracing it. They are the cornerstone now, they have to do more.’’

Luciano said, “Even though we didn’t do that well (by losing) in the CAA Tournament, we got to the Elite 8 (in the WNIT) which was pretty exciting for us. We definitely want to win the (CAA) championship.’’

Hofstra was picked to finish fourth in the CAA preseason poll.

Kilburn-Steveskey said it will take plenty of hard work to win the conference. “I’d be remiss if I didn’t say, yes, it’s going to be difficult right now,’’ she said. “It’s cloudy because you have a lot of pieces, you have a lot of talent, you’ve got to get them game experience. We really thought we have a great shot at it last year. If I told you we won 25 games and had a thousand injuries you would laugh but we did.’’

Guards Aleana Leon (4.7, 3.1), Sydni Epps (3.0, 4.4) and Olivia Askin return, as does 6-4 center Sandra Dongmo (2.5, 4.5). Kilburn is excited about the freshman class with forward Marianne Kalin and guards E’Lexus Davis, Sandra Karsten, Ana Hernandez Gil and Petja Krupenko.

Three to watch

Sr. G Krystal Luciano: One of the top point guards in the program’s history. From San Juan, Puerto Rico, last season she led the Pride with 125 assists and 56 three-point field goals. Had 12 double-doubles and scored a career high 21 points against William and Mary.

Sr. C Sandra Dongo: Hofstra’s tallest player at 6-4. The Cameroon-born athlete showed flashes last season with her best game coming against Massachusetts when she had 12 rebounds and blocked four shots. Averaged only 11.9 minutes a game. That will likely increase this season.

Fr. G Sandra Karsten: From Helsinki, Finland, where she played club ball and on the under-18 and under-16 Finnish national team. Averaged 6.4 points for those teams. Kilburn-Steveskey likes her speed and versatility to play different positions on the court.

Hofstra women’s schedule

Nov. 11 Marist, 5 p.m.

Nov. 14 at Stony Brook, 7 p.m.

Nov. 18 at Navy 7 p.m.

Nov. 22 Delaware State 7 p.m.

Nov. 25 at Sacramento State, 2 p.m.

Nov. 27 at UC Davis, 1 p.m.

Dec. 4 at Buffalo, noon

Dec. 7 Massachusetts, 7 p.m.

Dec. 10 American, 4 p.m.

Dec. 22 at Saint Joseph’s, 5 p.m.

Dec. 30 Hartford, 7 p.m.

Jan. 2 Northeastern, 2 p.m.

Jan. 6 at James Madison, 7 p.m.

Jan. 8 at William & Mary, 2 p.m.

Jan. 13 at Towson, 7 p.m.

Jan. 15 Delaware, 4 p.m.

Jan. 20 UNCW, noon

Jan. 22 at Drexel, 2 p.m.

Jan. 27 at Charleston, 11:30 a.m.

Jan. 29 Elon, 1 p.m.

Feb. 3 James Madison, 7 p.m.

Feb. 5 William & Mary, 2 p.m.

Feb. 10 Charleston, 7 p.m.

Feb. 12 at Delaware, 4 p.m.

Feb. 16 at Elon, 1 p.m.

Feb. 19 at UNCW, 7 p.m.

Feb. 24 Towson, 7 p.m.

Feb. 26 Drexel, 2 p.m.

Mar. 1 at Northeastern, 7 p.m.


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