The Stony Brook men’s lacrosse team had its 2014 season stolen from it with only a few seconds separating the Seawolves from an appearance in the America East Championship game.
Lyle Thompson of Albany, the Co-Tewaraaton Trophy winner from last season, made what, for lack of better words, was an unbelievable play. He forced the Seawolves-Great Danes semifinal matchup into overtime, where Albany would end any hopes that Head Coach Jim Nagle’s team had of an NCAA berth.
It was the best game that Stony Brook played all year long, at the time that they had to do it. Yet, it was still not enough.
“I think we are a much more resolved team to kind of give that effort that we gave in the last game of the season,” Nagle said in looking ahead to a new year of lacrosse. This time, however, he said it will be, “every game of the season this year, and at every practice.”
All the effort the Seawolves can give, all the time.
That starts with the student-athletes themselves.
For the past couple of years, Stony Brook has been extremely young, with then-freshmen and then-sophomores carrying the load. Those guys are still somewhat young, but more experienced and ready to do whatever it takes to win.
“ We’re doing a lot of different things in Dubin, our gym, and it drives us to be more of a unit and to be more compatible I guess with each other,” junior Challen Rogers said about the strength and conditioning work the team has done during the offseason at the Dubin Family Athletic Performance Center. “We did a program last year that brought us together a lot, and like I said before, we have a lot of returners, so we just try to lead and everyone kind of follows.”
The Seawolves will need to continue to grow as one in order to make their mark in the America East Conference and in what they hope is the country.
“We feel a lot older than we’ve been,” Nagle said. “I think anytime when you’re a coach, you want to develop players and develop teams, so the fact that we have guys back really enables us to develop and grow individually, but also as a team.”
One of the positions at which Stony Brook will have to come together as a team the most is at the face-off spot, where a midfielder takes the draw. One of the squad’s biggest strengths last year lay in the talent of Kyle Rowe, who dominated face-offs for the team before transferring to Duke to join his brother.
“We have Jay Lindsay, who was a little injured last year, and Frank Lucatuorto, who took a lot of face-offs freshman year and did a real good job against some of the best guys in the country,” Nagle said, pointing out that there was plenty of depth to make up for what may seem like a big loss.
“They changed the rules on the faceoff to make it more of a ground ball so I’m not concerned about it,” Nagle said. “I think we’ll be solid there.”
A position that was up in the air last season was in goal, as multiple keepers got their shot at earning the starting role. One rose above to seize the spot, and that was Hayden Johnstone, a freshman at the time.
Not the typical goalie, often sprinting down field in order to help the Seawolves clear the ball, Johnstone still managed to earn a spot on the America East All-Rookie team.
The thing is, according to Nagle, he is getting even better. Not a bad thing for the Seawolves, but certainly not good for the rest of the conference.
“Hayden did a tremendous job this offseason conditioning [himself],” the head coach said. “He was one of the hardest working guys in the Dubin Center, so that was a real positive sign.”
Another positive sign for Stony Brook is that Johnstone is not alone. He will need to play the way he has and work just as hard in order to reassure everyone that he deserves his position.
“Brandon Maciejewski is a freshman,” Nagle said of yet another student-athlete coming aboard who can contribute, “as well as Pat Fleming, who is like the heart and soul of our team.”
If one thing is certain, it is that the team has no desire to settle for another disappointing finish in the conference tournament. This team wants to win.
“Whenever you lose like we’ve lost to Albany the last two years,” Rogers reminisced on the way the Seawolves went out in their last two postseason runs, before saying, “We’re trying to get better and compete to [reach] the final of the America East.”
The Seawolves will face tests early and often, which will give them an opportunity to prepare themselves for what they hope is a longer run in the playoffs.
After Maryland came to Long Island last year with the No.1 ranking in hand, there is a chance that Duke will do the same. Rowe returns to give his old teammates a stern test on Feb. 22, in what will be one of the most attended lacrosse games in Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium history.
It is there that one of the best teams in the nation will see a somewhat new look from the Seawolves. Rogers and senior Mike Rooney will switch positions this season, something they have experimented with in the past.
“Well, I mean last year we switched a few times during the season,” Rooney said. “It’s the same thing with our offense, just share the ball.”
Rogers usually plays from up top in the midfield, but will drop down to Rooney’s typical spot to do just that, looking to feed the likes of Eastwood and Schultz as an attackman. Meanwhile, Rooney moves to midfield.
It proved a good idea in the first game of the season against Manhattan, as the duo combined for seven goals and three assists in a 19-3 blowout win inside a snow-filled Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium.
Rogers’ eye for the field and ability to find openings in the defense earned himself recognition as a preseason All-American Honorable Mention.
“I think, obviously we proved it in that one game that we could give a real solid effort and compete among the best teams in the country,” Nagle said about last year’s tough loss against eventual NCAA quarterfinalist Albany. “So, we’re trying to do that in practice every day and every game we play this year.”