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Stony Brook men’s lacrosse aims to take over CAA in second year

The Stony Brook men’s lacrosse team huddles at the end of practice on Wednesday, Jan. 24. The Seawolves are looking to win their first-ever Coastal Athletic Association title this year. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

Coming off a successful inaugural campaign in the Colonial — now Coastal — Athletic Association (CAA) in the books, the Stony Brook men’s lacrosse team is entering the 2024 season with even higher expectations.

Under head coach Anthony Gilardi, the Seawolves rode their electric offense to a 9-7 overall record last year, going 5-2 in conference play to earn third seed in the 2023 CAA men’s lacrosse tournament. After defeating Drexel in the semifinals, Stony Brook lost to then-No.19 Delaware in the championship game.

While reaching the conference finals was a notable achievement, Gilardi is looking for more now in his fifth year as head coach.

“For us, one of the things that we talk about in our program is taking the next step,” Gilardi said in an interview with The Statesman. “You get to the CAA Championship game and obviously the goal is to win it. Getting there is great. It gives you some experience to understand what it takes and that feeling of disappointment when you don’t finish the job.” 

Gilardi’s goal of taking the next step has been sewn onto his team. Long stick midfielder Christian Lowd — one of the best defensive players in the conference — has returned for his fifth year with glory on his mind.

“We want to win every game,” Lowd said. “I think this is the year that we can go all out and win; have an undefeated season. We’re just going to take it one game at a time, though. We’re gonna work hard and just work on us first before we look ahead in the future.”

In order for the Seawolves to walk the walk, their attack needs to pick up where it left off. Stony Brook ranked second in the CAA in goals (13.06) and third in assists per game (6.94). The offense was also responsible with the ball, as it averaged just 14.94 turnovers per game — the second-fewest in the conference.

The person that has orchestrated the attack’s success is assistant coach Mike Chanenchuk. Midfielder Noah Armitage gave Chanenchuk credit for being the man who unlocks the Seawolves’ scorers.

“Honestly, [Chanenchuk] is the mastermind behind the offense,” Armitage said. “He’s really good at finding player strengths and putting us in positions to be successful.” 

Gilardi also gave credit to Chanenchuk’s approach. 

“Coach Chany does a great job with the system,” Gilardi said. “We talk about doing one-six, so those guys understand that. If everyone just does their job in that moment […] that’s the focus. When the ball’s hot and everyone’s getting touches, we’re going to have plenty of opportunities. And we have good players that we expect to finish the ball.”

Up front, the team will be led by attackmen Dylan Pallonetti and Blake Behlen. Pallonetti made a bid for an All-American selection last year, leading Stony Brook with 70 points and 51 goals, which were the 10th most in the nation. The fifth-year superstar has scored a goal in all but one game of his career with the Seawolves and ranks sixth all-time in program history with 121.

Pallonetti was one of four Stony Brook players to earn 2023 All-CAA First Team honors. This year, he was selected as a 2024 CAA Preseason Co-Player of the Year in the preseason poll — a list that has the Seawolves projected to finish in second place.

Though Pallonetti is 61 goals away from becoming the program’s all-time leader, his target is a ring.

“I just want to continue to get better each day and practice hard so it translates into games,” Pallonetti said. “Ultimately, good stuff will come along the way, but the end goal is to win the CAA championship and hopefully take out a top team in the tournament.”

Behlen is another fifth-year player who enters his second season with Stony Brook. Last year, he led the team with 22 assists and scored 23 goals, placing him in a three-way tie alongside Armitage and former midfielder Matt Anderson for the second-most points on the team. Behlen started games on the attack, but rotated between the attack and the midfield and will do the same this year.

Behlen will look to continue being the lead facilitator of this offense in 2024.

“I love to keep my head up,” Behlen said. “I love to give other people the ball. I see things earlier than other people, I would say. I love setting up my teammates and letting them do what they’re supposed to do and put the ball in the net.”

Joining the starting attack is attackman Nick Dupuis. As a redshirt freshman, Dupuis had 39 points on 23 goals and 16 assists with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), earning a selection to the 2021 All-America East Conference First Team. However, he has had some off-the-field difficulties that have limited him to just four games played since then.

Overall, in just 19 games across three seasons with UMBC, Dupuis totaled 31 goals and 18 assists. He transferred to Stony Brook last year, but was ineligible to play.

Now, he will bring his dynamic offensive skill set to the attack to help round it out for the Seawolves.

“This year, Nick Dupuis has really stepped up,” Armitage said. “He’s looking really good at practice. I think we’ve been lacking that X presence the past couple of years. We’ve never really had a player with his feeding ability and the ability to dissect a defense that Nick does.”

A newcomer who is highly regarded by the team is freshman attackman Justin Bonacci, who Gilardi said may start. Gilardi drew similarities between the rookie and Pallonetti.

“From day one when Dylan stepped on campus, he proved to everyone he was the best player in the field,” Gilardi said. “Justin has kind of done that since he’s been here, as well. I’m really excited for him.”

Rounding out the list of attackmen to watch out for is graduate Henry Popko, the older brother of Walker, a current sophomore. Henry Popko was a four-year NCAA Division III player at Colby College and was a bench player for three years before becoming a starter and team captain last year. He scored 23 goals and 10 assists in 13 games with Colby.

Sophomore attackman Ronnie Kraemer also contributed in spurts off the bench last year with two goals and three assists in nine appearances.

Behind the lethal attack is a deep midfield group, headlined by Armitage — another All-CAA First Team member from last year. He put up 26 goals and 19 assists last year and is in his fourth season with the team.

Besides Armitage, midfielder Will Button is back for his fifth year after having a breakout season last year with 18 goals and 10 assists. Button is an attackman by trade but was used similarly to Behlen last year. He would start games on the midfield before transitioning to the attack throughout games, which Gilardi will continue to do with him.

Sophomore midfielder Sean Carlo was one of the more impressive freshmen on the team last year and showed a solid ability to dodge. In 16 games, he scored five goals and dished out an assist. He is expected to help fill in the void left by Anderson’s graduation.

Sophomore midfielder Richie Dechiaro, who scored three goals and added an assist in just six games last year, is also in the mix to get some minutes. Freshman midfielders Collin Williamson and Ryan Barker will also see the field this year.

Gilardi highlighted the importance of having multiple offensive weapons.

“I think it takes some pressure off Dylan,” Gilardi said. “You know, when you have a really talented player, they feel like they have to do it all by themselves. The ball is going to find its way to Dylan’s stick and then he’s going to have an opportunity to put the ball away. But I think to know that he doesn’t have to score six goals a game is huge.”

On the defensive side of the equation, the Seawolves still have some ground to gain. Their middle-of-the-pack end line allowed 11.46 goals per game and ranked last in forced turnovers per game at 6.56 in the conference. However, Stony Brook’s ground ball game was solid, as it picked up 31.69 per game — the third-highest mark in the CAA.

Defender Mikey Sabella and Lowd are back for another season with the Seawolves. Sabella started every game last year and scooped up 46 ground balls — the fourth-highest mark on the team. Lowd was named to the All-CAA First Team after leading the team with 63 ground balls and finishing third in the conference with 30 caused turnovers.

The Seawolves are retaining a large number of defensive players outside of Sabella and Lowd. Defensive midfielders Ben Morschauser and Dan Newton were regulars on the end line and the penalty kill last year. Defender Sean Conk — a strong 6-foot-5 senior — will be one of their anchors. Defender Michael DeSano impressed many, earning a spot on the 2023 CAA All-Rookie Team after playing in 12 games and starting 11.

The return of the team’s defensive core is a breath of fresh air.

“I think for the first time in a very long time, we bring back a lot of experience defensively,” Sabella said. “Every other year in the past, it seems like we’ve got four, five, six new guys getting plugged back in and we don’t really get to build all that much chemistry. But this year, we bring back a ton of experience and we’re poised to break out and be a really good unit this year.”

New faces were also brought in to fortify the defense. Long stick midfielder Gerald Filardi Jr. — a fifth-year transfer from Pennsylvania State — gives Stony Brook some needed depth at the position. Fifth-year short stick defensive midfielder Garrett Gibbons transferred in from Maryland for the 2024 season, as well.

If the Seawolves do struggle on defense, they have one of the best bandages in the CAA to make up for it.

Goalkeeper Jamison MacLachlan started all 16 games for Stony Brook in 2023 and led the conference with 195 saves. His .520 save percentage ranked second in the conference. He recorded 10 games with a double-digit number of saves and made the 2023 CAA All-Tournament Team.

This year, CAA coaches recognized him and made him the goalkeeper on the 2024 All-CAA Preseason Team.

MacLachlan’s presence energizes the team.

“We have a lot of confidence in Jamison,” Lowd said. “When he makes a good save, he’s getting the crowd pumped, he’s getting us hyped. As soon as he makes a save, he’s just yelling, screaming. Everyone builds off that. That’s what we need.”

The Seawolves’ special teams could prove to be their X-factor this season. Stony Brook cashed in on 37.3% of its man-up situations, the third-best number in the CAA. On the other end, its man-down defense was the best in the conference, stifling 82.7% of its man-disparities.

However, the Seawolves often lacked discipline. They took an average of 5.1 penalties per game, by far the most in the CAA.

Gilardi is looking to reduce the issue.

“It would be nice to not foul as much,” Gilardi said. “The late hits, offsides and slashes by the attack, those things we’ve definitely talked about and eliminated.” 

To take the next step as a team, Stony Brook will need to see improvement from its face-off specialists. Last year, Stony Brook won just 47.1% of its faceoffs, the third-worst mark in the conference. Freshmen Owen McIntee and Chris Esposito alongside returning sophomore Robbie Smith and junior Declan Mitchell are fighting for the top faceoff spot.

Gilardi pointed out the competition for the sole spot.

“We feel we got four guys that are kind of battling,” Gilardi said. “I think every day in practice, it’s been a different one that’s been the number one guy.”

With the goal of an automatic bid through the 2024 CAA men’s lacrosse tournament on their mind, the Seawolves will kick off their hopeful championship season on Sunday, Feb. 4 at Sacred Heart.

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