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Stony Brook women’s lacrosse’s superstar core back for one final ride

Midfielder Ellie Masera (12) carries the ball up the field alongside midfielder Charlotte Verhulst (86) while being chased by defender Clare Levy (42) in practice on Friday, Jan. 26. The three are part of a large group of homegrown stars who are graduating this year. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

When looking at the success of the Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team this decade, it is hard to overlook what its core of hometown stars have done. After growing up on Long Island and signing with the team early in high school, these girls have given their whole lives to the program and have turned into some of the best to ever put on the uniform.

Now, in 2024, the Seawolves are set to lose all of them at the end of the year, giving them one last chance to win it all before having to start over.

Eight very notable homegrown stars are officially in their last year of eligibility with Stony Brook. A trio of All-Americans, a pair of twin sisters, two excellent All-Conference middies and another strong role player have shared blood, sweat and tears with each other and will do it one more time before the sun sets on their careers.

Attackers Kailyn Hart and Morgan Mitchell, midfielders Ellie Masera, Jaden Hampel, Erin MacQuarrie and Charlotte Verhulst along with defenders Clare Levy and McKenzie Mitchell all have their fair share of feelings on this year.

Despite being one of the top programs in the country, the team has failed to break through the glass ceiling and win the national title. Every season this core of Seawolves has spent together has ended in upset: losses to the University of North Carolina in 2021 and 2022 followed by a defeat to Loyola Maryland in the Sweet 16 last year. With one last chance to reach the pinnacle of college sports, the group will band together to make a run for an NCAA championship victory.

The losses have given these players an extra chip on their shoulders coming into this year.

“It made us even hungrier for this year, and I think that’s a big reason why all the fifth years came back because we were like, ‘We can’t end on that,’” Masera said. “We can’t end up going out in the Sweet 16; I think everyone’s just bought in this year.”

Masera has had the most decorated career of the bunch. After an America East Conference (AE) All-Rookie campaign in her freshman season, her sophomore year was the one that cemented her as one of the top players in the country.

In the 2022 season, Masera won the AE Midfielder of the Year award and was selected to the All-AE First Team. She led the Seawolves in with 67, tied for 16th most in the nation, and dished out 20 assists. She ended the year by being selected a First Team All-American, becoming the first undergraduate Seawolf to ever receive the honor.

Her junior season toppled her first two, as she repeated as a First Team All-American and was named the 2023 Colonial — now Coastal — Athletic Association (CAA) Midfielder of the Year.

With it being Masera’s last go around as a collegiate athlete, she shared the kinds of emotions she is feeling going into her final season.

“It’s bittersweet, definitely,” Masera said. “I would not want to end it any other way except with these girls around me and under this coaching staff, but also it’s just so sad that it’s over.”

Given her combination of speed and strength, Levy is one of the best defenders in the nation. She was named to the 2024 USA Lacrosse Women’s Preseason All-American Third Team for this upcoming season and is one of the most accomplished of the graduating class. In her introductory season, she was honored with 2021 All-AE Second Team and AE All-Rookie team selections. She topped that season by making the All-AE First Team in her sophomore year.

Last year, she was a Third Team All-American and First Team All-CAA selection. She even scored a trio of goals — two of which came in the postseason.

Last season’s loss to Loyola Maryland shook the team. Levy said it gave the current graduate students on the roster some extra motivation to return just to get the taste out of their mouths.

“Coming off of us falling short to Loyola, I think that was really a kick in the butt,” Levy said. “Right when we lost, all of the [current] fifth-years were like, ‘We know we’re coming back. We know it. We’re never going to feel like this again.’ For that to be my last game, I don’t ever want to feel that.”

Hart is another future Stony Brook Hall of Famer. She has racked up All-American Honorable Mentions, First Team All-Conference nods in both leagues and won the 2022 AE Attacker of the Year award. Her 157 career goals scored are the seventh most in program history, leading Masera by two scores.

With the opportunity to have one last run at a title, Hart jumped at the chance. She said returning for the 2024 season was an easy decision, and the group around her was a big reason for that.

“I had the honor to come back with these amazing girls, amazing coaches and the staff around us for a fifth year, which I couldn’t be happier to do,” Hart said. “We have to take it game by game and play by play; that’s how we’re going to succeed as a team.”

Hart has made an impact since the first time that she stepped on the field for the Seawolves in 2020. In her collegiate debut against then-No. 4 Syracuse, a behind-the-back goal earned her a spot on the SportsCenter Top 10 list. Even now, four years later, that is still her personal favorite moment.

Head coach Joe Spallina is the man who assembled this Avengers-esque squad, scouting them from a very young age and signing them early in their high school years. His intense style of coaching along with his masterful scheming has helped develop all of these girls into some of the nation’s best players.

Though the intimidating, stern Spallina may have startled some of these girls at the start, they have all come around to form a bond with him. Hart reflected on her first impressions of Spallina and how her opinion has altered over the years.

“I think me and Coach’s relationship really grew throughout the years,” Hart said. “We might have got off to a bit of a rocky start, but we definitely grew and I know that when I step out on the field, I’m going to play for him and my teammates.”

The story is similar for Hampel. Though the two may have had some disagreements over the years, Hampel shared how Spallina helped her become a two-time All-Conference player.

“We definitely have butt heads in the past, but he always wants what’s best for us,” Hampel said. “He always cares for us, not only on the field but if something’s going on off of it, he’s always there to make sure we’re alright, physically and mentally.”

The tenure for these Stony Brook players is more sentimental for some than others, and the roots run deep for a few. Morgan and McKenzie Mitchell have played lacrosse together since they were four years old, but this year will be the last time the twins take the field together. Their experience at the University began long before they arrived on campus back in the summer of 2019, as their older sister Kasey played on the team for four years starting in 2016.

Morgan Mitchell is an instrumental piece of the team and gained 2022 All-CAA Second Team honors last season after becoming their third-leading scorer with 43 goals and 20 assists.

She has developed a lot in her time at the University, going from a bench player to a star. She redshirted as a freshman, did not start a game until 2022 and scored just 16 goals through her first three years on campus before breaking out last year.

Though she is entering the home stretch of her collegiate career, she is excited to face the challenges ahead.

“I think we’re excited because it is our last time playing with each other,” Mitchell said. “It’s sad, but I think we’re excited because I think we know we could get somewhere that we haven’t been.”

McKenzie Mitchell has played a smaller role than her sister on the field, but she is just as important off of it. Many of her teammates cite her as the biggest voice in the locker room, something that will be missed after she departs.

Though it is the last ride for the Mitchell sisters, they have created bonds that will last into life past college lacrosse.

“It’s been nothing but amazing, honestly,” McKenzie Mitchell said. “I couldn’t ask for anything else. These friends that I have, I’ll have them my whole life.”

The roots not only run deep for the Mitchell sisters, but also for Hart and Verhulst who played travel lacrosse with them. Throughout middle and high school, all four played for the Long Island Yellow Jackets, who were coached by Pete Mitchell, Morgan and McKenzie’s father. 

Verhulst has had a meteoric rise as a Seawolf. She has been a starter for each of her first four years, but was used more as a draw specialist and a defensive midfielder through her first three seasons. Then last year happened. Not only was she the top option in the draw circle, but she exploded on offense with 25 goals after scoring only four through her first three years.

Her growth earned her Second Team All-AE honors. Now in year five, Verhulst is content with departing after this season but does not want to go home empty-handed.

“I think I’m ready for this to be my last one; I don’t think I was prepared for that last year so I’m glad I came back,” Verhulst said. “I’m ready to be done, but I’m ready to do that with a ring under my belt.”

The feeling is mutual among many of Stony Brook’s veterans that this upcoming season will be a big one and may be its best chance at getting some hardware. Of the team’s CAA-leading 281 goals scored last season, 272 (96.8%) of them came from players returning this year and 238 of them (84.7%) of them are from these eight homegrown stars.

MacQuarrie is one of these believers and should be a key contributor this upcoming season. The fifth-year player stepped into a bigger role for the Seawolves in the 2023 season, totaling 18 points on 10 goals and eight assists.

Though the emotions are high in her final year, she believes that her squad has what it takes to go all the way.

“I have all the faith in the world in myself and the team, and that we’re going to finish on the highest note we’ve ever finished on,” MacQuarrie said. “So I am at peace, but obviously it is sad. I’ve been playing my whole life.”

It has been a long road for all of these players, and with it coming to an end brings many emotions. Excitement, sorrow, nostalgia and anxiety swarm the players, but the lasting impression that they have made on each other is the most-emphasized sentiment echoed amongst them.

Coaching some of the veterans for four years and others five, Spallina has been through rollercoasters of emotions from all of them. He has also seen the connections that have been made and the development among the players, something that he said goes beyond the field. 

“There’s real friendships and connections, and it’s personal,” Spallina said. “For these kids, it’s so much more than just putting on the uniform. To see what they’ve done, it’s just remarkable. It’s special. It’s more than lacrosse.”

Mike Anderson and Nayden Villorente also contributed reporting.

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About the Contributor
Kenny Spurrell, Assistant Sports Editor
Kenny Spurrell is an Assistant Sports Editor of The Statesman. He is a senior English major and journalism minor at Stony Brook University. He began covering sports for The Statesman during the Fall 2021 semester. Since then, he has covered men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s lacrosse and football. His passion for sports derives from his many years of playing basketball, football and baseball. He is a Long Island native from Selden, N.Y. and has dreams of becoming a sports journalist.
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