Senior long-stick middie Ryland Rees in a game against Sacred Heart last season on Feb. 10, 2018. The All Conference First Team senior long-stick midfielder Ryland Rees will lead the Stony Brook defense.JIM HARRISON/STONY BROOK ATHLETICS

The Stony Brook Men’s Lacrosse 2018 season was quickly becoming desolate after starting off with a rocky 1-5 start, in which the average margin of defeat was nearly six goals. However, the Seawolves banded together and instituted the right team chemistry that turned their fortunes around, sharing the America East Co-Regular Season Championship with eventual conference champion UAlbany. Now replete with a heavy mixture of experienced juniors and refining sophomores, the team is striving for championship success that has eluded them since 2012.

The Stony Brook defense will be commanded by All Conference First Team senior long-stick midfielder Ryland Rees. Rees safeguarded the backend of the field aggressively, finishing sixth in the conference with 45 total ground balls and second with 24 caused turnovers.

Rees’ authoritative defense ultimately nabbed him a spot on defending champion Team Canada in the 2018 FIL World Championship, alongside 2011 Stony Brook graduate midfielder Kevin Crowley and 21 others, from July 13-21. The long-stick midfielder patrolled the field, forcing several loose balls and even recorded a goal as Canada advanced to the gold medal game against the United States. Although a last-second United States goal prohibited Rees from becoming a gold medalist, he was able to continue improving his game and learning from his veteran teammates.  

“It was a true honor to [play] for Team Canada,” Rees said. “Being one of the younger guys on the team, I had to definitely accept that role and just follow the great players that were on that team such as Brodie Merrill and Geoff Snider. Just doing my part of what I was asked for by the team was such an amazing experience, but it was an unfortunate turnout for us.”

Rees was named Stony Brook team captain last season and is one of nine active seniors. Despite playing the pivotal role, the captain believes his fellow classmen have stepped into a leadership position as well.

“One thing we really try to capitalize on is senior leadership as a whole,” Rees said. “We expect the same out of every senior whether you play or not. The leadership role that has been taken on by the other seniors on this team is tremendous. Being able to watch some of the other leaders grow and lead this team to where we are today is a surreal feeling.”

Offensively, Stony Brook returns all 10 of its top leading scorers and all 12 of its leaders in assists from last season, including All-Conference Second Team junior attacker Tom Haun. Haun excelled at blazing through opposing defenders and ripped shots through the back of the net, leading the team with 22 goals, 36 points and a 75 shot on goal percentage.

Haun will be accompanied on the attack by junior Chris Pickel, Jr. and sophomores Jack Walsh and midfielder Mike McCannell, who are all expected to see starting time after successful 2018 campaigns. With a mix of classmen controlling the team’s scoring, Haun has smoothly transitioned to being the offensive play caller and catalyst.

“We are a pretty young group on attack, with two sophomores, I have tried to be more vocal on the field,” Haun said. “It is a bigger responsibility for me because you gotta echo the calls and everyone has got to know where they are supposed to be but it is a good challenge and I am ready to accept it.”

Stony Brook wasted no time improving over the offseason, practicing in snowstorms two weeks before classes were in session. The Seawolves focused much of their training toward improving possession amounts and scoring after finishing fourth in the conference for overall goals and points.

“I think [we improved on] our own system”, Haun said. “We realize that for us to win games we have to ground balls. We also have to play within the system and we have to play hard. I think that improved from the first day of practice up until now and we are just ready to keep it going.”

Stony Brook unsuccessfully opened its new season, falling 17-4 to the substantially commanding No.4-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions on Saturday, Feb. 16.

The Seawolves have upped the ante in terms of competition, facing off against five ranked teams this season as opposed to merely two last year in America East action. They will conclude their season against Albany on Friday, April 26 in a battle between the top two teams selected in the Coaches Preseason Poll.

“We always try to play a tough schedule so if you want to be the best, you got to play the best, Nagle said. “We don’t worry about playing tough teams because they make us better. It makes you better in general whenever you face better teams so we are trying to grow as a team and continually get better over the course of the season.”

The formidable opponents should serve as a true test for Stony Brook’s durability and playoff potential throughout the season as it looks to improve on a successful conference season.

Player to watch: Ryland Rees

Rees enters the campaign fresh off a stint with the Team Canada at the 2018 FIL Men’s Lacrosse World Championship in Netanya, Israel from July 13-21 that almost did not happen.

A dispute over improved insurance between national players and the Canadian Lacrosse Association resulted in players refusing to participate in the games. Players refused giving in to the association’s demands to play until a compromise was ultimately met on June 15, less than one month before the games.

“The fact that we were able to stick together and everyone was on the same page is incredible,” Rees said. “They were trying to find players that would go to play and would say yes, while as a country everyone is saying ‘No, we want to stand behind those Team Canada guys that are holding out’. It made us realize we weren’t fighting for the team, we were playing for everyone else in the country.”

Canada cruised to the semi-finals, where a controversial last second goal served the United States the 9-8 victory and gold medal. Dissatisfied with the result, Rees still took in the experience gained from participating in the Championship.

“What I was able to grab was the level of respect that players have for each team and each country,” Rees said. “On and off the field, you are always with other teams and your own teammates. Just the leadership that some of the other guys were able to show and how close-knit that team got so quickly really brought the team together.”