Sophomore forward Alyssa Francese dribbles the ball in a game against the New Hampshire on Oct. 8, 2017. Francese has scored two goals already this seasonGARY GHAYRAT/THE STATESMAN

With Stony Brook Women’s Soccer entering the 2018 season as defending America East champion, confidence in the team has never been higher. Last year’s accomplishments have not translated into expectations, however, and head coach Brendan Faherty is focused on a fresh start with this year’s squad.

“The great thing and also the bad thing about college athletics is that every year there it’s a new team,” Faherty said. “Yes, we won the America East championship [last year] but now it’s a totally different team with a different challenge.”

This new chapter for the Seawolves comes with some changes to the game plan. Faherty believes that his team has shown improvement throughout the summer and has prepared for this upcoming season.

“We’re spending more time on scouting reports, restarts and video,” Faherty said. “In the past years we were just trying to get our system of play down and now we have kind of moved on to scouting teams more.”

The Seawolves have started the season off with a 2-3 record for the second straight year. The team comes into the season with numerous key players from last year, as well as six newcomers, half of which play the midfield position.

Returning for the Seawolves are the 2017 team’s two leading point-getters, sophomore forwards Alyssa Francese and Rachel Florenz. The duo notched a combined 33 points, including 15 goals, both finishing in the conference’s top 10 in points. Francese has scored two goals already this season, including the golden goal against Oregon State on Aug. 19.

In her final season, senior forward Julie Johnstonbaugh returns to the team right where she left off. The experienced forward played in all 22 of the Seawolves’ games last year and finished with seven points. She has scored two goals and notched four points through six games so far this year.

Sophomore goalkeeper Sofia Manner, who finished fourth in the conference in saves with 82 last year, has also had a strong start to 2018 for the Seawolves. The Finnish keeper holds a save percentage of 73 and is already second in the America East in saves with 32 through the six games.

Among the newcomers for this year’s team are freshman midfielders Ranae Ward, Mari Brenden and Arianna Barbieri, who look to add depth to the center of the pitch. Ward captained the U20 Trinidad Women’s National Team in 2017-18 and played in two matchups against Venezuela. Ward has started two matches for Stony Brook this season, and has tallied 213 minutes so far. Brenden scored the lone goal in a matchup against Seton Hall on Aug. 26. Barbieri, a Ward Melville High School product, captained her team in her senior season and earned All-League, All-Conference and All-County honors, as well as finishing the year as team MVP.

Freshman forward Tatum Kauka, freshman defender Spencer Wirkkala and freshman goalkeeper Grace Fabian also join the squad as successful players in their respective ranks. Kauka is the second Hawaiian native to join the 2018 roster along with sophomore midfielder Chelsie DePonte. She helped her team to a league championship as a senior and was named First Team All-League and Second Team All-State as a junior in high school. Wirkkala served as team captain in her final two seasons at Granite Falls High School in Washington. She was named Cascade Conference Defender of the Year as well as Second Team All-State in her final season.

Fabian joins the team as the third goalkeeper on the roster, along with Manner and redshirt-senior goalkeeper Carolyn Carrera. Fabian posted an impressive save percentage of 96 in her final two seasons at Clarence High School in Clarence, New York, allowing just nine goals. With Manner still the team’s starting keeper, Fabien could gain knowledge from two experienced goaltenders throughout this season.

“We are very excited to add these six young women into our program this fall,” Faherty said in a press release. “We had specific needs that we wanted to address with this class and we believe each student-athlete will fill a specific role in our program starting in August.”

Through the first six games of the year, most signs point to another positive Stony Brook season with Faherty at the helm. The team still carries a large amount of depth at all positions with fresh legs, as nearly two-thirds of the team is made up of underclassmen.

“The work rate has been there [over the summer],” Faherty said. “I think the first month of the season we focused on descending and playing on the counter as well as pressing the middle. We are playing teams who we thought would have the ball more than us, so we want to be good from a defending standpoint, which I’ve been really happy with so far.”

PLAYER TO WATCH

Sophomore forward Alyssa Francese is likely to be an offensive leader for Stony Brook in her second year with the team. Francese has jumped out with two goals in the team’s first six games, along with recording five points. Her performance last season allowed her to stand out as a key offensive player despite her youth. As the Seawolves marched through the 2017 season, Francese played a crucial role as an offensive anchor, being named to the America East All-Rookie Team and even scoring the opening goal in the conference final. This season will likely be more of the same for the second-year forward, especially as a regular starter.