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Stony Brook women’s lacrosse still chasing a title after disappointing end

Midfielder Ellie Masera (left) carries the ball while attacker Morgan Mitchell (right) looks to get open against Hofstra on Friday, April 28. Masera was an All-American this year, while Mitchell was an All-CAA selection. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

After making consecutive appearances in the elite eight of the NCAA tournament, the No. 10 Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team once again fell short of winning a national title.

Coming into the 2023 season, the Seawolves were looking to break through the glass ceiling after being eliminated by the University of North Carolina each of the last two years. Rather than breaking through the ceiling, they bumped their head on it in the second round of the 2023 NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament. Taking on the No. 9 Loyola Maryland Greyhounds on their own home field, Stony Brook lost 9-8, ending its title hopes way sooner than expected.

Stony Brook came into the season ranked No. 6 in the 2023 Inside Lacrosse national rankings poll, and rose as high as No. 4 by the fourth week of the season. At that point in the season, the Seawolves were 4-0 and had defeated three ranked opponents. They were handed their first loss of the season by the No. 3 Northwestern Wildcats on March 10 and promptly dropped to No. 5. The team fell another spot in the rankings the next week and owned the No. 6 spot again for the next three weeks.

Disaster finally struck Stony Brook on April 12 when it suffered a massive upset loss to unranked Rutgers, which caused the team to drop beneath the top eight in the rankings. The Seawolves were ranked No. 9 in the next week’s poll and wound up dropping as low as No. 11 by the end of the regular season. Stony Brook still wound up winning the 2023 Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) women’s lacrosse championship and advanced to the NCAA tournament, but its lower ranking caused it to miss out on a top-eight seed. The team missed out on the opportunity to play home games in the tournament, and it ultimately went home without a national championship victory.

On the bright side, Stony Brook remained a national powerhouse all season long. The team extended its NCAA Division I record for most consecutive wins against a conference opponent, as it went 7-0 in the regular season and dominated a pair of playoff games to clinch an automatic bid. In their first year in the CAA after spending 21 seasons in the America East Conference (AE), the Seawolves won both the regular season and postseason championships, like they were picked to do in the preseason poll. Stony Brook overmatched just about every opponent it faced, as it boasted one of the best offenses and defenses in the nation.

The Seawolves owned the best scoring offense in the CAA, averaging 14.79 goals per game. That mark was the 13th-best in the nation. They also shared the ball better than anyone in the conference, averaging 6.95 assists per game as a team. Stony Brook also thrived better than anyone in woman-up opportunities, scoring 25 goals when on the power play. The team was also very clean, as it averaged the fewest turnovers per game in the CAA.

The offense was led by midfielder Ellie Masera, who scored 71 goals this year, which was the sixth-most in the nation. She also dished out 24 assists, which was the fifth-most in the CAA, giving her 95 total points to lead the conference. She also controlled 120 draws, which led the CAA. Not surprisingly, Masera was selected to the 2023 All-CAA First Team. She also was named the 2023 CAA Midfielder of the Year. Even more prestigiously, she was named a 2023 First Team All-American by USA Lacrosse Magazine.

Helping Masera run the elite offense was attacker Kailyn Hart, who was also selected to the All-CAA First Team this year. Hart took on a distributor role this year for Stony Brook, tallying a career-high 23 assists while also scoring 55 goals, which was second-most in the CAA. Hart received some national recognition as well, being named a 2023 All-American honorable mention by USA Lacrosse Magazine.

Fellow attacker Morgan Mitchell had a career year and was selected to the 2023 All-CAA Second Team. Mitchell scored 43 goals and added 20 assists. Attacker Jolie Creo led the team with 26 assists, which was the third-most in the CAA. Creo also scored 13 goals, giving her 39 points, ranking fifth on the Seawolves’ roster.

Sharing the midfield with Masera was a pair of All-CAA Second Team selections: Jaden Hampel and Charlotte Verhulst. Hampel scored 31 goals and collected 20 assists, placing her in the CAA’s top 10 in total points. Verhulst had a breakout season this year after being a bench player for the first three years of her career. She scored 25 goals and added nine assists while also handling duties in the draw circle. Her strong performance in the draw circle led Stony Brook to post a 58.4% draw control percentage, which ranked ninth in the NCAA.

Midfielder Erin MacQuarrie was also a good contributor to the team on both sides of the ball. She was the seventh and final Seawolf to score 10 goals or more. She finished her season with 10 goals and eight assists. She also picked up 24 ground balls, which was the third-most by an offensive player on Stony Brook’s roster.

Defensively, Stony Brook was elite. The team allowed just 7.89 goals per game, which led the CAA and was the fourth-best number in the country. The unit also forced the third-most takeaways in the conference, averaging 8.95 caused turnovers per game.

The defense was anchored by defender Clare Levy, who earned First Team All-CAA honors as well as a selection to the USA Lacrosse Magazine All-American Third Team. She picked up 27 ground balls, which was the fourth-most on the team, and caused 16 turnovers. She shared draw control responsibilities with Verhulst and thrived. She picked up 58 draw controls this year, and also made some offensive contributions with three goals and an assist.

Also roaming Stony Brook’s suffocating defense was defender Haley Dillon. Dillon wrapped up her six-year NCAA career by earning a selection to the All-CAA Second Team. She made her presence felt all year long, leading the team and finishing third in the CAA with 29 caused turnovers. She also picked up 31 ground balls, which was the third-most by a Seawolf in 2023.

Helping those two out were another pair of defensive playmakers: defenders Lindsay Rongo and Ella Whitehouse. Rongo caused 17 turnovers, which was the fourth-most on the squad and picked up 18 ground balls. Whitehouse generated 22 takeaways, which trailed only Dillon on Stony Brook’s roster. She also scooped up 21 ground balls.

Stony Brook’s weakest point was its goaltending. Head coach Joe Spallina brought in goalkeeper Hailey Duchnowski after a four-year career with the Long Island University Sharks. Duchnowski, the defending 2022 Northeast Conference (NEC) Defensive Player of the Year, struggled in the cage for the Seawolves. She saved only 36.9% of the shots she faced. Overall as a team, Stony Brook posted just a 37.5% save percentage, which was the worst mark in the CAA.

The bright spot was goalkeeper Aaliyah Jones, who saved 48.5% of the shots on goal that came her way. However, she faced a much smaller sample size, facing only 33 shots in nine total games played (zero starts).

Despite this flaw in its game, Stony Brook was able to mask it by controlling the ball and playing stingy defense all year round. The Seawolves surrendered only 240 total shots on cage, which was the lowest mark in the CAA by far. The next closest to them was Hofstra, who allowed 328 shots on goal.

Stony Brook still has some time on its side, as very few of its key contributors are leaving. Dillon and Duchnowski are both out of NCAA eligibility and have graduated. Hart, Mitchell, Creo, Verhulst, MacQuarrie, Rongo and Whitehouse all have an extra year of eligibility remaining. Neither Spallina nor Stony Brook Athletics have confirmed who among that group is returning for a fifth (or sixth) season.

Definitely returning are Masera, Levy and Jones, who are all going into their senior seasons. With the roster retention that Stony Brook is due to have, the team will likely be a national title contender once again in 2024. However, with the Seawolves’ star players running out of eligibility, their window is much tighter now compared to years past.

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About the Contributor
Mike Anderson
Mike Anderson, Sports Editor
Mike Anderson is the Sports Editor at The Statesman. He is a senior majoring in journalism with aspirations of becoming a sports journalist. His love of sports comes from his time spent as a baseball player. As a reporter for The Statesman, he has covered baseball, softball, football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, men's and women's lacrosse, women's volleyball and hockey. He has also interned at Axcess Sports as a high school and college baseball and softball reporter. He is a local product from Port Jefferson, N.Y. and is a diehard Mets, Jets, Nets and Islanders fan.
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