The Hofstra softball team found itself in a strange place to begin the season: No. 3 in the Colonial Athletic Association softball coaches' preseason poll.
Three months later, the Pride finds itself in a more familiar place -- a 1,000-plus- mile flight to an NCAA regional.
In Hofstra's fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, the Pride (37-12-1, 17-3 CAA) will face Florida Atlantic in the double-elimination Gainesville Regional on Friday. No. 1 Florida and Florida A&M also are in Hofstra's regional in Gainesville, Florida.
Hofstra has played the underdog role all season, and against the likes of Florida, the Pride knows this will be no different. But Hofstra has high hopes.
"We don't look at the name on the jersey," said senior Morgan Lashley, who went 19-2 with a 1.95 ERA in 30 starts. "Everyone is ready to take on the challenge. If it's not challenging, then we don't want to be a part of it. We look forward to playing teams like that because we want to prove everyone wrong. Just because we are from the Northeast or we are a mid-major school doesn't mean we can't compete with the best."
Hofstra -- with the 13th-best RPI in the country -- won the conference tournament for the third time in four years, beating James Madison twice to earn the automatic NCAA Tournament bid. The Dukes had a 19-0 CAA record during the regular season, including two victories over Hofstra.
Caryn Bailey -- who led the CAA with 16 home runs, finished third in RBIs (51) and batted .370 -- said winning the CAA Tournament is an important confidence-builder as opposed to entering as an at-large team. Said Bailey, "If you don't get to that championship game, you don't get that feeling of everything being on the line."
This was Larissa Anderson's first year as Hofstra coach and she called this season a "new era with the same foundations in place." Anderson was an assistant for 13 seasons, and the Pride played in the NCAA Tournament in 10 of them. She replaced Hall of Fame coach Bill Edwards, who will be at this year's tournament.
"We talk every day," Anderson said. "I talked with him for 13 years. That's longer than most marriages, so he and I have an unbelievable relationship."
Anderson said she won't decide if Lashley or senior Taylor Pirone -- who is 18-10 with four saves and a 1.87 ERA -- will start until Friday morning.
Hofstra lost to and tied Florida Atlantic in a tournament in March. Friday's first pitch is set for 3:30 p.m. The game can be seen on ESPN3 and will be broadcast on WRHU (88.7 FM).
"There's really no better way to go out in your senior year than go out and prove everyone wrong," Lashley said. "We've already done it in conference and we are ready to do it in the NCAAs as well."