Byrne, Hofstra's New Star, Looks Like 'Next Mark Matthews'
Hofstra junior attackman Josh Byrne has seemingly come out of nowhere, while suddenly emerging as one of the more striking scorers in collegiate lacrosse.
And it's safe to say the native of New Westminster, British Columbia, who spent two years playing at the community college level in New York before joining the Pride this year, is no longer anonymous.
Not after Byrne dropped four goals and two assists to push then-unranked Hofstra to a 10-5 upset over North Carolina in the Pride's season opener. Not after he followed that with a five-goal show he ended in overtime by ripping an eight-yard shot past Princeton goalie Tyler Blaisdell. Not after his team-high 12 goals had left the ninth-ranked Pride with a 3-0 record this week.
One year after the Pride suffered through a 5-9 season, a year marked by close losses that began with the tragic death of teammate Joseph Ferriso, who died Jan. 3, 2015 from injuries sustained in a car accident, the vibe is entirely different in Hempstead, N.Y.
Byrne, a left-handed weapon who has created quite a 1-2 punch at Hofstra with senior star attackman Sam Llinares, made a Canadian name for himself as an indoor star with the New Westminster Junior Salmonbellies. Byrne earned MVP honors in the British Columbia Junior Lacrosse League as a high school senior by producing 41 goals and 38 assists.
Who is Josh Byrne? Lax Sports Network interviewed him on the field after scoring five goals, including the OT winner, against Princeton last Saturday.
A two-year odyssey through the community college world, first at ASA (Advanced Software Analysis) College in Manhattan, then last year's amazing run at Nassau Community College, ultimately brought Byrne to the Division I ranks on Long Island. At Nassau, he shattered the school's single-season scoring record as an NJCAA All-American with 76 goals and 30 assists in 12 games.
"Josh is a lacrosse rat. He's got some 'Wow' factors going for him," Hofstra head coach Seth Tierney said. "He's a big-time competitor with a really good lacrosse IQ who can score in different ways. He's got the hands and the great eyes. And he's got the unbelievable ability to make the big play at the right time."
"[Byrne] adds another dimension to our offense. He obviously takes some pressure off of my shoulders," added Llinares, who was a marked man a year ago with a team-high 57 points as the Colonial Athletic Association's Player of the Year. "He has a way of catching defenders off guard. We had instant chemistry."
And to think Llinares and Byrne never formally played together until the Pride began its preseason in January. With Llinares having scored 11 goals in 2016, the Byrne-Llinares connection currently is the most potent duo statistically in Division I.
Oh, they know about Byrne up north. On February 10, the Burnaby Lakers selected the 6-feet-3, 200-pound Byrne as the top pick in the Western Lacrosse Association draft.
Byrne has been handling a lacrosse stick for as long as he can remember. For nearly two decades, he has honed his craft playing the indoor game, with its small goal cages and rugged physicality and generally tight spaces that demand precision passes and heady, off-ball movement.
"I started playing box [lacrosse] at age 3 and hockey a little after that. Box is a big deal [back home], lots of tradition," said Byrne, who was playing with the Salmonbellies club at age 10. "I remember always walking around the house as a little kid with a stick in my hand. At dinner, it was beside me. When I was sleeping, it was next to me. I've always loved the game."
Byrne originally drew Division I recruiting interest from Bellarmine and Providence. That tailed off, and Byrne acknowledged that he needed to address academic issues to pave his way to the collegiate field game in America.
While he was taking care of scholastic business in New York, he committed to Hofstra after discovering Nassau, which fields a renowned juco program under 32-year coach George Powers.
"It took a while for our kids to catch up to [Byrne]," Powers recalled. "He'll throw a pass from anywhere on the field. He's got the best hands I've ever seen. His right hand [shot] was stronger than anybody else's off hand. The way he rides, the way he sees the whole field, it's special. He's only scratching the surface in the field game.
"It's rare to have a kid that talented who has such great work ethic and such a large sense of humility," Powers added. "Josh was committed to getting his AA degree and he stayed for two summer sessions to get that done. He was the leader of the pack when it came to doing extra shooting. He took care of [restringing] his teammates' sticks."
By the time Hofstra came to Chapel Hill on Feb. 20 to open its season against 2-0 Carolina, the Tar Heels had little idea of the ambush that was coming. Behind its potent, two-man game – Llinares scored five goals to complement Byrne's six points -- Hofstra revealed a budding star who could make the Pride a CAA contender and a threat to reach its first NCAA tournament since 2011.
"We had a very limited scouting report on [Byrne]. We saw some indoor clips," North Carolina coach Joe Breschi said. "You need to prepare for a guy like that. Shut him off, pinch him, double [team] him quickly. He's the next Mark Matthews."
Byrne has been the whole offensive package for the Pride – dodger, feeder, able to rip accurate shots with either hand on the run or as a catch-and-shoot threat. In the Pride's pick-and-roll scheme, Byrne and Llinares have been the tone-setters.
"We both understand how to manipulate a defense, how to make them bite on what we're trying to sell. We have an eye for each other," said Byrne, who cautioned against any overconfidence early.
"We're doing well as a team right now, getting a lot of attention. But we have to keep a level head about it," he said.
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