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No. 10/11 Stony Brook women’s lacrosse going for gold with expiring window

The Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team huddles at the end of practice on Saturday, Jan. 26. With a dangerous returning offense, the Seawolves are national title contenders. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

With its national championship window narrowed down to this year, the No. 10/11 Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team will look to finally get it done with its newest group of superstars.

As always, expectations remain high for the Seawolves, who were picked to win the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) in the coaches’ preseason poll. The 2024 season will be the final one for eight of their starters from the 2023 campaign, which includes their top seven scorers. Before entering a new era, Stony Brook will aim for history with its veteran group.

Despite the upcoming season possibly being the last title-caliber Seawolves roster for some time, head coach Joe Spallina feels no added demand to reach the ultimate goal.

“When your standard is winning the national championship, there is always going to be pressure,” Spallina said in an interview with The Statesman. “We all feel the urgency to win, but I don’t think it’s very different than the last five or six years.”

Stony Brook fell short in the second round of the 2023 NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament against Loyola Maryland. The team had a successful debut season in the CAA, going 7-0 in the regular season before dismantling Delaware and Drexel in the conference’s postseason to claim the automatic bid.

Overall, the Seawolves went 15-4 and boasted the 13th-best scoring offense (14.79 goals per game) and the fourth-best scoring defense (7.89 goals per game) in the nation.

In the 2023 regular season, Stony Brook went 3-2 against ranked opponents. It stacked its schedule again in 2024, as it is set to show down with No. 5 Syracuse and No. 4 Denver. The Seawolves will host Denver at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium, from where they currently own a 34-game winning streak.

Attacker Jolie Creo believes the team’s tough schedule outside of conference play will benefit the players.

“Taking no credit away from our conference, we beat every team by a 10-goal margin except for one,” Creo said. “Having those outside games really gives us more perspective on who we are going to end up playing when we get into tournament play.”

Stony Brook has the potential to be a top 10 offense in the nation this year, given its returning cast plus a couple of new weapons.

The team’s attack is as stacked and healthy as ever. From a statistical standpoint, the Seawolves lost just nine goals and one assist in the offseason to either graduation or the transfer portal. Their returning players combined to score 97.6% of the team’s points (goals plus assists) last year.

Stony Brook’s deadliest weapon is senior midfielder Ellie Masera. She earned several high honors, such as 2023 USA Lacrosse Magazine All-American First Team, 2023 CAA Midfielder of the Year and 2023 All-CAA First Team. Masera ranked sixth in the nation in goals (71), dished out the third-most assists in the CAA (24) and led the conference in draw controls (120) last year.

Masera’s peers expect her dominance to continue, as she was named the 2024 CAA Preseason Player of the Year.

As her final season approaches, Masera has already etched her name in program history.

“You could make an argument that she’s one of the best players to put the uniform on,” Spallina said. “She does it all. Back when she committed to Stony Brook, we had a really large vision for her. She followed the script. Every year she’s getting better.”

Masera forms an elite duo with attacker Kailyn Hart — a 2023 USA Lacrosse Magazine All-American Honorable Mention. The graduate student was second on the team in goals (55) and third in assists (23) and earned a First Team All-CAA selection. Her 157 career goals are just two more than Masera, placing her seventh all-time in program history.

Hart thinks the depth of talent makes the Seawolves a legitimate national contender.

“I think we have a lot of young strength, but we also have the veterans that we need,” Hart said. “So that mixing together is really pushing us through practices and bringing our level higher and higher. I think it’s just going to be a piece of cake for us this year because we have all the keys to be successful this year.”

Graduate attacker Morgan Mitchell finds the scoresheet often, as well. The 2023 All-CAA Second Team selection scored 43 goals and dished out 20 assists. Midfielder Jaden Hampel also contributes a ton, as the two-time All-Conference player has totaled 69 goals, 49 assists, 55 ground balls and 95 draw controls over her first three seasons.

Hampel believes that the team’s chemistry is its strongest asset.

“We’re all returning and a majority of us have been with each other from the start,” Hampel said. “I think the bond that we have with each other is our biggest strength. We realize from losing those big games that we have to be willing to die for the person next to us or do that one extra thing. I think all of us have that agreement and our bond is unbreakable.”

Creo led the team with 26 assists while operating mostly from the X. She also chipped in 13 goals. She is back for her second year with the team and her sixth year in the NCAA.

Creo expects a similar role in 2024.

“We’re returning the same offense, so if we keep doing what we did last year, my role could fall into place with that,” Creo said. “The only reason I was able to [lead the team in assists] was because I had such good teammates around me. Getting in the right position, putting themselves up so that I could feed them and get those passes off.”

Another All-CAA Second Team selection that had a career year in 2023 was midfielder Charlotte Verhulst. Outside of her 25 goals and nine assists, Verhulst also handled the majority of the team’s duties in the draw circles. She finished third on the team with 55 draw controls and helped the Seawolves achieve the ninth-best draw control percentage (.584) in the nation last season.

Another impact player on both sides of the ball in 2023 was midfielder Erin MacQuarrie. She tallied 10 goals and eight assists to go along with 24 ground balls and 11 caused turnovers. 

Masera, Hart, Mitchell, Hampel, Creo, Verhulst and MacQuarrie are all entering their final collegiate season. Although the seven have proven to make up a championship-caliber offense, they will get help from another player in her last year: attacker Alex Finn.

Finn began her career at Boston College, where she did not see game action during the abbreviated 2020 season. She then transferred to the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) and became a staple in the team’s offense. In her three years at UMass, she tallied 90 goals and 74 assists in 56 games and earned a selection to the 2023 All-Atlantic 10 Second Team after totaling 42 goals and 40 assists.

Finn is excited about joining a team that is playing with a chip on its shoulder, and she is expected to be a starter.

“Everyone on this team is super competitive,” Finn said. “That’s kind of what drew me here. Everyone wants to prove other teams wrong, so I really like that gritty aspect.”

Another fresh face that could find a spot on the Seawolves’ rotation is freshman attacker Haydin Eisfeld, who Spallina is very high on.

“She has excellent skills,” Spallina said. “Two-handed player who can play behind the cage and on the wing. Really good cutter. She could do it all. She’s one of the players that has a good chance of being a starter or seeing significant time.”

Another freshman who could see time on the field is two-way midfielder Isabella Caporuscio. Additionally, Allie Masera — Ellie’s younger sister — will see an increase in playing time in her sophomore season with Stony Brook. Also on the midfield is Alexandra Fusco, who led the bench unit last year with seven goals scored.

Despite being lethal on offense, Stony Brook’s identity is its defense. After possessing the best scoring defense in the nation in 2022 and dropping just three spots last year, the Seawolves graduated three starting defenders last year.

Defenders Haley Dillon, Ella Whitehouse and Lindsay Rongo combined for 40% (68 of 170) of the team’s caused turnovers. However, defender Clare Levy and her All-American prowess is back for her senior season. Levy was selected to the All-CAA First Team and the 2023 USA Lacrosse Magazine All-American Third Team after generating 16 takeaways and 27 ground balls last season.

Though those three players will be tough to replace, Levy believes their heir apparents will do the part just as effectively.

“It leaves three big roles to fill, but I think it’s exciting that right now we have so many people that are fighting for it and they’re making each other better by fighting,” Levy said. “I think it’s very exciting because they’re all so good and it’s hard to pick those exact people; it’s anyone’s game.”

Spallina described his defensive scheme as “plug and play” and believes whoever is called upon will do a good job.

“We feel really good about our defense,” Spallina said. “Our middies play really good D. System-wise, we feel really good about the athleticism that we are going to put into some of the spots that we graduated.”

Still, the Seawolves will rely on specific players to carry its defense. Other than Levy, defenders Avery Hines and Rachel Rosenberg alongside midfielder Jordan Forte will see the field.

Spallina called Hines the “best defender that no one knows” and believes she is going to have an All-American-caliber year. In her first two seasons with the Seawolves, Hines played in just 13 games and started just one.

The prospect of being a crucial piece on a renovated defense is a newer feeling to Hines.

“My sophomore year, I played behind Haley Dillon, [who] was the best person to play underneath,” Hines said. “This year, it’s definitely a shift. We have so much competition in the low post.”

Rosenberg is in her seventh year of college after missing all of 2023 with an injury. She is a transfer from Ithaca College — an NCAA Division III school — where she was a two-time All-American selection. Her many years of extra eligibility stem from her injury-plagued career.

As a freshman in 2018, she played in six games before suffering a season-ending injury. The abridged 2020 season brought Rosenberg a sixth year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and last year’s injury made the 2024 season possible for her. Across five incomplete seasons, she totaled 136 ground balls, 38 caused turnovers and 165 draw controls.

Her ability to make plays earned her selections to the 2022 USA Lacrosse Magazine All-American Second Team and the 2021 Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association All-American Second Team.

Forte is another potential defensive starter that is coming off an injury. After missing most of 2023 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Forte could play a significant role in Stony Brook’s national championship push.

The final line of defense for the Seawolves is expected to be goalkeeper Emily Manning. She is a graduate student who played four years at Binghamton. Manning was named the 2023 America East Conference (AE) Goalkeeper of the Year and was naturally selected to the All-Conference First Team. She finished the season third in the AE with 128 saves and second with 10.94 goals against average.

Manning is still in competition with freshman goalkeeper Natalia Altebrando for the top spot. Aaliyah Jones — a senior who led the team with a .485 save percentage last year — is currently out with an undisclosed injury.

Spallina is encouraged by his choices at the position.

“Emily Manning has been sensational, and I don’t mince words,” Spallina said. “Natalia Altebrando is nipping at her heels, so we’ve got nice, healthy competition right now.”

Stony Brook’s quest for its first-ever national title will begin on Feb. 18, when it welcomes Dartmouth to LaValle Stadium at noon.

Mike Anderson and Kenny Spurrell also contributed reporting.

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About the Contributor
Alex Streinger, Assistant Sports Editor
Alex Streinger is an Assistant Sports Editor of The Statesman. He is a junior majoring in journalism and minoring in political science. He is the beat reporter of the Stony Brook men’s soccer and nationally-ranked women’s lacrosse teams. He interns at Movendi International, the largest independent global social movement for development through alcohol prevention.
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