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No. 14 Stony Brook women’s lacrosse kicks off NCAA Tournament run against Niagara

The Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team huddle up during the CAA title game against Drexel on Saturday, May 4. The Seawolves will play Niagara to open their 2024 NCAA tournament journey. STANLEY ZHENG/THE STATESMAN

After three years of heartbreak in the national tournament, the No. 14 Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team has one last chance to achieve ultimate glory with one of the most successful cores in program history.

In the first round of the 2024 NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament, the unseeded Seawolves (17-3, 8-0 CAA) will take on the Niagara Purple Eagles (16-3, 7-2 MAAC). Both teams earned automatic bids to the tournament after winning their respective conferences and will be contending for their first national championship.

The contest will be held at the Syracuse University Soccer Stadium: the outdoor home of the No. 3 Syracuse Orange. Opening draw is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Friday.

Niagara is currently in the midst of its best season in program history. By defeating No. 25 Fairfield, the Purple Eagles won their first ever Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) championship to advance to their first-ever NCAA tournament. Additionally, they have set single-season program-highs in wins (16), conference wins (seven) and goals (283).

Although Niagara has a relatively balanced roster, its offense stands out. The Purple Eagles rank first in the MAAC with 14.89 goals per game. They also lead their conference in assists per game (7.47) and are third in shots per game (32.32).

Niagara’s attacking depth is particularly impressive, as it has four players that have scored 48 or more goals this year. The Purple Eagles’ offense is spearheaded by attacker Andra Savage — a 2024 All-MAAC First Team selectee — who has tallied 73 goals and 13 assists. Savage is first in her league with 3.84 goals per game.

Attacker Lois Garlow was also named to the All-MAAC First Team. With her 52 goals and 30 assists this season, she is a dual-threat weapon. Garlow is seventh in the MAAC in goals per game (2.74) and fourth in assists per game (1.58).

Rounding out Niagara’s quartet of prolific goalscorers are attacker Lexi Braniecki and midfielder Rachel Crane. The former has done the majority of her work on the attacking side of the ball, as she has notched 57 goals and 10 assists. Braniecki is third in her conference with three goals per game.

Conversely, Crane serves as a do-it-all player for the Purple Eagles. The 2024 MAAC Co-Midfielder of the Year — alongside Iona’s Kira Varada — has registered 48 goals and nine assists this year alongside 19 caused turnovers and 30 ground balls. She also plays a critical role in her team’s draw unit and earned All-MAAC First Team honors.

Niagara’s primary facilitator is attacker Riley Latray. She has dished out 60 assists to go with eight scores. Latray is second in her league and fourth in the nation in assists per game (3.16).

The Purple Eagles’ offense also receives help off the bench in the way of midfielder Maddy Gill. She has recorded 21 goals and six assists this season.

On account of Niagara’s profundity on that end of the field, Stony Brook’s defense will be challenged on Friday. However, its endline contains several playmakers of its own. Overall, the Seawolves have the best defense in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) and own the second-best scoring defense in the nation, as they allow just 7.79 goals per game.

Stony Brook and, more specifically, defender Avery Hines will look to take the ball away from the Purple Eagles. Niagara commits 14.79 turnovers per game, which is the fourth fewest in its conference. On the other hand, the Seawolves cause 9.05 turnovers per game — the third-best mark in their league.

As predicted by head coach Joe Spallina — the 2024 CAA Coach of the Yearbefore the season, Hines has had an All-American-caliber year with 60 caused turnovers and 40 ground balls. She is second in the CAA and fourth in the nation with 3.16 caused turnovers and ninth in her conference with 2.11 ground balls per game. Hines earned a spot on the 2024 All-CAA First Team.

Furthermore, she has already broken the Seawolves record for caused turnovers in a season, passing Brooke Gubitosi and her 55 caused turnovers in 2017. 

Defender Clare Levy is another star on Stony Brook’s endline. Similarly to Crane on the Purple Eagles, Levy chips in on all three facets of the game. She has caused 11 turnovers and picked up 32 ground balls, scored nine goals and dished out five assists and has been integral in the center circle, as she has controlled 52 draws. Due to her all-around play, Levy was named to the 2024 All-CAA Second Team.

Alongside Hines and Levy, defenders McKenzie Mitchell and Rachel Rosenberg are likely to get the starting nod on the Seawolves’ defense on Friday. The duo has combined for 22 caused turnovers and 24 ground balls for Stony Brook thus far.

Defender Jordan Forte is another option for Spallina on the endline. She has done most of her work — which includes three caused turnovers and 12 ground balls — off the bench this season.

Midfielders Erin MacQuarrie and Alexandra Fusco are the Seawolves’ defined two-way players. MacQuarrie has played and started in every game for Stony Brook the past two years. This season, she has put up 11 caused turnovers, 29 ground balls, seven goals and seven assists.

Fusco is arguably the Seawolves’ most impactful bench player, as she has caused 10 turnovers and scooped up 17 ground balls. She has also scored four goals in the past six contests and is up to eight goals and five assists for the year.

Although they do not put up the same numbers as Stony Brook, the Purple Eagles’ endline are no slouches. They concede 10.32 goals per game, which is the fourth fewest in the MAAC. 

Niagara’s defense is anchored by 2024 MAAC Defensive Player of the Year and All-MAC First Team honoree Sydney Huhtala, who has caused 50 turnovers and picked up 46 ground balls. She ranks first in her conference in caused turnovers per game (2.63).

Another player on the Purple Eagles’ endline that earned a postseason award is defender Mickey Knapp. The 2024 All-MAAC Second Team selectee has posted 15 caused turnovers and 32 ground balls this season.

Rounding out Niagara’s starting defense are defenders Sammy Owen and Mackenzie Bushnell. As a tandem, they have tallied 19 caused turnovers and 25 ground balls.

Midfielder Amber Daley chips in to help the Purple Eagles’ endline. She has caused 14 turnovers and scooped up 23 ground balls.

Both sides do not put up particularly impressive numbers on the ground. Niagara is seventh in its league with 16.42 ground balls per game and the Seawolves are sixth in the CAA with 15.42 ground balls per game.

Nonetheless, just like Stony Brook, the Purple Eagles are prominent in the caused turnovers department. They cause 10.37 turnovers per game, which is the most in their conference.

However, that might not be a significant concern for a Seawolves team that turns the ball over just 11.58 times per game, the second-fewest amount in their league. Niagara will have its hands full slowing down any aspect of Stony Brook’s attack, which scores 15.74 goals per game — the most in the CAA and 10th most in the nation.

The Seawolves generate a lot of opportunities, as they lead their conference and are sixth in the nation in shots per game (34.53). Stony Brook also happens to be the best passing team in the nation, as it has produced the best assists per game (9.32) output out of any NCAA Division I team.

Its offense is led by the nation’s leader in points with 104: Ellie Masera. The 2024 CAA Midfielder of the Year has scored 69 goals and dished out 35 assists this season. She places first in her league and is tied for sixth in the nation with 4.06 goals per game. Masera is also fifth in the CAA with 2.06 assists per game. She was named to the 2024 All-CAA First Team.

Attacker Kailyn Hart — another All-CAA First Team member — is Masera’s battery mate on the Seawolves’ attack. She has registered 68 goals to go with 16 assists and is second in her conference with 3.78 goals per game.

Behind the cage, attacker Alex Finn roams the X for Stony Brook. Also an All-CAA First Team honoree, she has reaped the benefits from the team’s cutting prowess by accounting for 52 assists alongside 29 goals. Finn is first in her league with 2.74 assists per game.

As part of a career year, midfielder Charlotte Verhulst is crucial for the Seawolves on multiple parts of the game. On offense, she has already set career highs in goals (40) and assists (15). Verhulst is also Stony Brook’s primary draw taker and has controlled 63 draws this season. She was named to the 2024 All-CAA Second Team.

Another All-CAA Second Team selectee is midfielder Jaden Hampel. Alongside attacker Morgan Mitchell, the two have been less involved this year compared to last season but still contribute. They have combined for 25 goals and 16 assists.

Attacker Courtney Maclay is the Seawolves’ top scorer off the bench, as she has scored 13 goals and dished out three assists. She will be back on Friday after missing the previous three contests, according to Spallina.

First-year midfielder Isabella Caporuscio’s production has taken a dip as of late, but she will still receive playing time. Caporuscio has tallied nine goals and three assists and was selected to the 2024 CAA All-Rookie Team. Attacker Jolie Creo is another option off the bench, as she has put up four goals and nine assists.

If Stony Brook is able to let off its usual high number of shots, it will be up to Niagara goalkeeper Jordan Roy to respond. She sits third in the MAAC in save percentage (.450) and eighth in saves per game (7.26). Roy is solid on the ground, as she leads her team with 49 ground balls and is 10th in her conference with 2.58 ground balls per game.

Conversely, goalkeeper Aaliyah Jones will likely mind the Seawolves’ net. She has not been very busy this season. Jones has only racked up 418:07 minutes out of a possible 1142:62 — with goalkeeper Emily Manning serving as Stony Brook’s starter early on — and her defense has allowed just 12.9 shots on goal per game. She is seventh in the CAA with a .417 save percentage.

The Seawolves have the edge over the Purple Eagles on special teams. Stony Brook’s .582 draw control percentage thumps Niagara’s .468 mark.

Alongside Verhulst and Levy, Masera rounds out the Seawolves’ draw unit. She has controlled 136 draws this year — breaking the previous program record of 135 set by Keri McCarthy in 2018 — and is second in her conference and joint ninth in the nation with eight draw controls per game.

The trio will be matched up with Savage, Crane and Huhtala in the center circle. They have controlled 72, 63 and 55 draws, respectively. Savage is 10th in her league with 3.79 draw controls per game.

Additionally, Stony Brook outscores the Purple Eagles 2.42 to 1.47 in woman-up goals per game and .47 to .21 in woman-down goals per game. The Seawolves are first in the CAA in both categories, while Niagara are fifth in its conference in both.

Stony Brook’s advantage over the Purple Eagles is further demonstrated by the NCAA’s Rating Percentage Index (RPI). Coming into Friday’s affair, the Seawolves are seventh in RPI compared to Niagara’s 26th ranking.

If Stony Brook wins, it will take on Syracuse in the next round on its own outdoor home field. Earlier this season, the Seawolves upset the Orange. Opening draw for that game would be at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

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About the Contributor
Alex Streinger
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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