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High-powered offense figures to guide Stony Brook women’s soccer to playoffs

The Stony Brook women’s soccer team walks onto the field on Sept. 15, 2022. The Seawolves are looking to ascend further in the conference standings this year. KAYLA GOMEZ MOLANO/THE STATESMAN

While the Stony Brook women’s soccer team’s first impressions in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) are already etched in stone, the team is not done rising up the ladder.

As new members of the CAA last year, the Seawolves exceeded preseason expectations, finishing in sixth place and clinching a spot in the 2022 CAA women’s soccer tournament. They went 7-8-4 overall and 4-2-3 in conference play. In the first round of the playoffs, Stony Brook’s season came to an end with a 2-1 loss to Northeastern.

Now in 2023, the Seawolves are still being slept on by the rest of the CAA. For the second year in a row, they have been picked to finish in 10th place, which would leave them out of the postseason tournament.

Head coach Tobias Bischof is not concerned with his team’s preseason rankings. All he wants to see is an improvement from where the group left off.

“For us, the goal is going to be the same,” Bischof said in an interview with The Statesman. “Want a little bit more; do a little bit more than last year. Last year, we made the playoffs as the sixth seed out of eight. This year, the goal is to make the playoffs ideally higher than a sixth seed.”

Stony Brook’s path to return to the postseason will be more difficult this time around, as the CAA has tightened its championship bracket. The 2023 CAA women’s soccer tournament will only include the top six teams after fielding eight last year. The CAA also got deeper this year with the arrival of the Campbell Fighting Camels, who are coming from the Big South Conference.

Campbell has had four winning seasons in a row and is coming off back-to-back regular season championships. The Fighting Camels also won the 2020-21 Big South championship tournament. They were picked to finish seventh in the preseason poll but did get some respect with one first-place vote. The Seawolves will host them for their conference opener on Sept. 7.

Stony Brook was one of the youngest teams in the conference last year with 10 total freshmen, six of whom were regular starters. The team also went shopping and brought in forward Reilly Rich from the transfer portal. Those 11 new players meshed well enough to help the Seawolves score the most goals in the CAA last year. Luckily for them, all 11 of those new players along with several veterans have returned for a second season together.

Bischof hopes the roster continuity and experience gained in 2022 will pay dividends for the team this year.

“If you have a young team like this, every extra game you can get is going to hopefully help you for the following season,” Bischof said.

Midfielder Linn Beck also believes that the team’s first run together last year has set it up for success now.

“I feel like this year, I know my teammates and how they play, and how the competition is in the CAA,” Beck said. “I feel like it’s much easier. I feel like as a player, I’m better if I know my teammates rather than just trying my best.”

Beck was one of Stony Brook’s standouts in 2022. As a freshman, she scored six goals and dished out four assists, earning selections to the 2022 All-CAA Third Team and the CAA All-Rookie Team.

Alongside Beck, the team’s midfield will star Gabby Daniels, Jadyn Lui, Ashley Manor and transfer Allie Palangi. Daniels has a reputation for being a disruptive defensive midfielder, and she also improved offensively last year with two goals and two assists. Lui was one of the team’s top reserves as a freshman and scored two goals as well. Manor was a full-time starter as a freshman last year, starting in all 19 games and playing the fourth-most minutes on the team. She also handled the team’s corner kicks.

Palangi played for four years at the University of Colorado and appeared in 58 games. Her only season as a starter was her junior year (2021), where she scored all three of her career goals and added two assists.

Rich was the only other Seawolf who racked up more goals and assists than Beck last season. After transferring in from a junior college, she led the team with eight goals, five assists, 21 total points and 27 shots on goal, all of which ranked within the conference’s top 10. Her first year in the NCAA saw her earn a spot on the All-CAA Third Team next to Beck.

Rich said that in order for the Seawolves to make a deeper run than last year, they are going to have to want more.

“Last year, nobody was satisfied with losing in the first round of the playoffs,” Rich said. “That’s motivation now going into this season to push ourselves further and see how far we really can go. We know we can compete. Now, we have more of an understanding [of the CAA] and can move forward and create more success than last year.”

Sharing the attack with Rich will mainly be forwards Hannah Maracina, Gabrielle Côté and Luciana Setteducate. All three flashed their scoring abilities often last year, foreshadowing the quality of strikers that they could become. Maracina scored five goals, including two game-winners, and added an assist last year. Côté was one of the heroes of the season for Stony Brook, as her two-goal game in the regular season finale helped the team clinch a playoff berth. She scored four goals and dished out two assists last year. Setteducate contributed three goals and four assists for the Seawolves’ elite 2022 offense.

The team’s biggest concern coming into this year is its defense, as it struggled for most of the 2022 season. Their 36 allowed goals last year — 1.89 per game — were second-worst in the conference behind only Hampton.

Improving the squad’s defense has been one of the biggest focuses for the team this offseason.

“We gave up too many goals,” Bischof said. “We need to be better as a program, as coaches, and improve our defense.”

With the departure of defender Morayo Adenegan, there is a hole to fill at center back. However, the team is retaining top defenders Kerry Pearson and Catharina von Drigalski, who will play on the outside of the backline.

Von Drigalski is back for her fifth year with the team after making the 2022 All-CAA Second Team. She was tied for second in the CAA last year with seven assists and also added two goals. Coming into this year, she was selected for the 2023 All-CAA Preseason Team. Along with Pearson, von Drigalski will be wearing the armband as team co-captain for the second-straight year.

Von Drigalski believes that combining her leadership skills with Pearson again will help Stony Brook win.

“I’m very grateful that Kerry and I are both captains because I feel like we have a different style of leading the team,” von Drigalski said. “I think together, it meshes really well. I’m just happy to do it for another year, and I think we’ll find a little bit of success with that.”

Filling Adenegan’s shoes will be a tall task. Some of the defenders in play for a bigger role this year are Emma Beattie, Sammy Hannwacker and Grace Cagnina. Beattie started all 17 games in 2021 as a sophomore, scoring one goal and co-leading the team with three assists. She missed all of 2022 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Hannwacker was a freshman last year who only played seven games and 119 minutes. However, she did score three goals. Cagnina is a transfer from Long Island University, where she was a four-year starter.

If the defense does struggle again, Stony Brook will have to rely on strong goaltending, which it luckily already possesses. The Seawolves have a loaded group headlined by starting goalkeeper Nicolette Pasquarella, who was second in the CAA in saves (91) and fourth in save percentage (78.4%). Pasquarella earned the starting job during the season last year, as she was the fourth and final goalkeeper to get a start in net. She did not make a start until the fifth match of the year but wound up holding onto the role and thriving.

Behind Pasquarella are sophomore goalkeepers Ava King and Jordan Wolf, who she beat out for the starting spot last year. Wolf surrendered only one goal in parts of three games played, while King saved 70.4% of the shots that came her way across six appearances. The team also brought in freshman goalkeeper Kaitlyn Vo to deepen the room.

Having to earn her spot over other talented goalies helped Pasquarella become one of the CAA’s best.

“Every day is a competition,” Pasquarella said. “We have three other goalkeepers here who are very talented. You have to give 100% effort every day because the level is so high here … any of us can be on the field at any time.”

After breaking out in 2022, Pasquarella is looking to keep trending upwards and anchor Stony Brook’s defense this year.

“Obviously, I want to let less goals in,” Pasquarella said. “I want to connect with my defense better and make us one of the stronger backlines in the conference. This way, we don’t have to worry so much about the defense.”

With Stony Brook’s loaded offense from a year ago still intact, it will likely rank towards the top in scoring again this year. If the defense can lighten Pasquarella’s load this year, the Seawolves may very well prove their preseason ranking wrong once again.

“We are ready to take the next step and be a little better than last year,” Bischof stated. “Are we ready to compete with the top of the cream? We will see.”

Mike Anderson contributed reporting.

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