Hofstra University #11 Stephanie Rice heads upfield during NCAA women's...

Hofstra University #11 Stephanie Rice heads upfield during NCAA women's lacrosse team practice at Shuart Stadium. (Feb. 8, 2011) Credit: Photo by James Escher

Stephanie Rice has found a calling, one that she hopes will enable her to become a special education teacher. The Hofstra lacrosse senior attack took a bit of a respite from the sport over the summer to work at an assisted residential home near her family's upstate residence.

It became an epiphany.

"I interacted with 20 different adults with special needs,'' she said. "It ranged from autism to severe mental retardation. You help them cook, help them clean. I had to learn how to drive a bus for those with wheelchairs. It's been one of the most life-changing events I've ever had. It definitely defines what I want to do. It's definitely challenging. It's like a new experience every day. I think it equates a lot to lacrosse because you have to be able to interact with people.''

For Rice, lacrosse is more than something to do before she seeks a teaching job. Her offense will be relied upon to help offset the graduation of Corinne Gandolfi, who scored 148 career goals. Rice scored 23 as a junior and has 73 in three seasons.

"She can score a lot of goals,'' said Hofstra coach Abby Morgan (fifth season, 41-28). "She's very good in transition, getting the ball up the field for us. She's a very good cutter; she can score off the fast break. There's a lot of different areas where she can contribute. I've been watching her since eighth grade. She really is a heady player. She can manipulate any defender and make them look silly. She's a fabulous cutter; that was the first thing we saw in her. Her bread-and-butter is having a defender play her tight and just back-door pop, show her and be wide open.''

Hofstra was 12-6 last season but did not make the NCAA Tournament. The team is ranked 20th in the preseason poll. "I think our sights are set on the NCAA Tournament, and if we achieve anything less than that, that's not our goal,'' Rice said. "I think everything we do has to prepare for that.''

Rice is not the only player who can find the net. Jill Maier (22-8), Jacklie Ardolino (15-4) and Claire Brady (6-15) will provide a balanced offense. On defense, Katie Hertsch returns after a big season in which she had 34 ground balls and 31 draw controls. And Morgan said goalie Jaclyn Pandolf appears ready for a big season.

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