What is a Seawolf?
In 1995, the San Francisco Giants, a Major League Baseball team, selected Stony Brook student-athlete Joe Nathan with the 159th overall selection in the draft. At that point, the Seawolves were the Patriots. Today’s Division I program was only in Division III.
That level of college athletics prioritizes education over sports. Division III schools do not even hand out scholarships for athletic performance.
So, for years before June 2012, the Indoor Sports Complex was a place seen only by, well, student-athletes. A crowd would arrive here and there to attend a Seawolves basketball game, but otherwise, more than a few people in the area at once was not a common occurrence.
That June, though, things were different. In the lobby of what has become the entrance to Island Federal Credit Union Arena, a sea of students, faculty and supporters stood together with pride. The 2012 SBU men’s baseball team, under Matt Senk, the same head coach who produced dominant Major League Baseball closer Joe Nathan, had done something no other Stony Brook team had done before—they made the College World Series. It was an unprecedented achievement for a little known mid-major athletics program, throwing its name onto a national stage.
As the team made its way through a mob to the bus that would take the Seawolves to the airport for a trip to the College World Series, a buzz filled the air.
The team would carry that buzz and newfound notoriety to Omaha, where the Seawolves would bow out against the top baseball programs in the country. But to get there, the team beat powerhouse Louisiana State in the Super Regional, a feat nobody would have ever thought it possible. Stony Brook shocked the world.
The SBU men’s basketball team upset No. 13 Washington the night of Sunday, Dec. 28, an undefeated Pac-12 team on its home court, by a 62-57 scoreline. It is impossible to call the Seawolves’ win a shock. They are not like NJIT, who upset Michigan earlier in the season. Stony Brook has made noise before.
It was all over ESPN’s “SportsCenter” last Sunday. The show’s highlight package showcased redshirt freshman Roland Nyama’s diving steal, junior point guard Carson Puriefoy’s game-tying three pointer and junior Jameel Warney’s banker that put the team ahead for good. In fact, the Seawolves even earned themselves a blurb in the New York Times. That is a great capstone moment for an athletic department that had not really had one yet.
The thing is, athletic success is nothing new at Stony Brook. Everybody already has an idea who the Stony Brook Seawolves are. It is no longer about launching the rocket ship.
Instead, “the sky is the limit for the Seawolves,” as Director of Athletics Shawn Heilbron said at his introductory press conference back in May.
SBU’s football team has had players on and off practice squads in the National Football League. Many of the university’s former men’s lacrosse student-athletes have enjoyed successful professional careers, and Kevin Crowley played his way to capturing World Championships this past summer. The women have also earned notoriety through awards and even coming back to coach the Seawolves.
Following in Joe Nathan’s footsteps, two more Stony Brook pitchers, Tom Koehler and Nick Tropeano, found their way on to major league pitching staffs. And countless former SBU men’s basketball players made livings as professional athletes overseas. Since 2010 alone, the Seawolves have taken the America East Conference tournament crown 17 times, and the football team has won the Big South title three times.
So, as those on the Stony Brook men’s basketball team jumped up and down in elation after their historic win against Washington, remember this: A great win will always be a great win, but Stony Brook was already “here.” They have “arrived” after beating Washington, but the Seawolves already made themselves known.
As time moves on, people will throw out different things for the athletics department to accomplish next. Some will suggest changing conferences, others will put more and more pressure on making an NCAA Tournament appearance in basketball. To get a football player selected in the NFL Draft will be yet another milestone Seawolves will hope to accomplish.
The one thing to keep in mind is Stony Brook cannot expect to turn into a national powerhouse overnight. But something to mention is where the Seawolves are now. It could be said Stony Brook justified its position as a good mid-major athletics program. And after being a Division III program just over 15 years ago, this is something to be very, very proud of.
We should also discuss Stony Brook’s men’s and women’s rugby teams. Although not yet varsity status (although there is a strong case as to why both are deserving to be) these teams have used the modest funding allocated from student government to achieve great successes, both in terms of achieving numerous conference and tournament championships (both men’s and women’s, 15’s and 7’s), and achieving great personal growth of hard working values and strong character in the sports many participants.