Fall Ball Focus: Katie Whelan Not Blinded by the Bright Lights


Katie Whelan had 20 goals and a team-high 19 assists last spring.

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Moments before the pregame talk with the coaching staff ahead of the Hofstra women’s lacrosse team’s first NCAA tournament game in 14 years, Katie Whelan and teammate Arianna Esposito walked out to the field to get a few extra shots in. 

Whelan looked around Syracuse’s Carrier Dome, soaking it all in. Hofstra had arrived, and Whelan helped the Pride get there. 

“The lights of the dome, it was so crazy. And that was what stuck with me,” Whelan said. “Game time. Bright lights.”

The lights will shine a bit brighter on Whelan this year after all-time Hofstra great Alyssa Parrella graduated. Parrella was a USA Lacrosse All-American honorable mention, among multiple All-American honors, posting 63 points on 45 goals and 18 assists, while also adding 54 draw controls, 11 ground balls and three caused turnovers. She led Hofstra in goals, points and draw controls and ranked second in assists and sixth in ground balls. 

She finished her stellar career with 261 goals — 10th all-time in NCAA history — and 355 points — 15th all-time in NCAA history. Parrella set school and Colonial Athletic Association records with those lofty numbers.

While admitting they’re different players, Hofstra coach Shannon Smith claims its Whelan who will be tasked with filling Parrella’s large shoes. 

“Katie likes the bright lights and shows up for the big moments, and she likes making those big plays,” Smith said. “There’s gonna be a lot expected of Katie. She’s in that big role now, that attacker teams are trying to stop, but I see her game evolving, and she’s putting a lot of work in.”

Parrella has a quicker first step, but Whelan takes creativity to another level. From X, she can shoot sidearm around the cage. No-look shots from goal-line extended, backhand shots and the question mark around the net are all part of her growing arsenal. 

That was on display in the Carrier Dome with her behind-the-back goal that made ESPN’s SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays. 

According to Smith, Whelan has an “aura” about her, crediting her upbringing in Long Beach, Long Island, where she surfs and worked as a lifeguard. 

“I think she does a really great job at staying poised in situations,” Smith said. 

Whelan showed glimpses of that in some of the Pride’s biggest games a year ago. She had 20 goals and a team-high 19 assists, plus 31 draw controls, 10 ground balls and five caused turnovers. Six of those goals were scored in a signature 13-7 win at then-No. 24 James Madison that helped secure Hofstra’s at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. 

She also had four goals on five shots in a loss to JMU in the CAA semifinals and added two goals and two assists in that one-goal loss to Loyola in the first round of the NCAA tournament. 

“One thing about them that they share is they love the big opportunities, they’ll step up for their team, they’re both goal scorers, and they’re both incredible kids to coach, and they’re students of the game and they always want to get better,” Smith said. “I think that’s really, really important.”

Smith knows the narrative around her program this year, that Hofstra will be down without Parrella on the attack line. And that’s just fine. 

“There’s not a doubt in my mind that everyone’s just like, ‘Hofstra’s not gonna be good this year because Alyssa Parrella is gone,’” she said. “I’m sure every single person is saying that. I’m sure the teams in the CAA are happy that she’s gone. But I think what they don't know about us is that we have a lot of talent on our team, and we run deep this year.”

And they have Whelan leading the charge. 

While the expectations outside the program might be lowered, inside the Pride’s locker room, the 36 players and coaches have set a specific goal of returning to the NCAA tournament — and this time winning a first-round game. 

The lights would be brighter then, just the way Whelan likes them. 

“That’ll mean the world,” Whelan said. “We were really close last year, but winning this year would put the cherry on top of my career.”


The fall is allowing Smith and her coaching staff the chance to see who will step up in advanced roles this season. “Everyone’s gonna play this fall, and everyone’s gonna get the same amount of playing time and everyone’s gonna get their opportunity, so when you step on that field and when your number’s called, make the best of that opportunity and make our jobs hard as coaches to figure out what pieces of the puzzle are,” she said. … Smith expects the Pride, a deep, but mostly unproven team, to move the ball quickly and to share the scoring load this season. “I think, overall, they don’t care who scores, they just want the ball moving as quickly as possible. They want the ball in the back of the cage, and I think that’s really special about this group,” Smith said. “I think that we have a lot of talent, and I think we’re going to shock people this year.” … Senior Jackie Gatti leads a deep midfield unit. ... Senior goalie Jess Smith is playing the best Shannon Smith has seen in her four years. ... Shannon Boyle is not only the anchor of the defense, but also “the heart and the soul” of the team this year, according to Smith.

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