MANJU SHIVACHARAN / THE STATESMAN
Freshman Kylie Ohlmiller (left, No. 18) has tallied 73 points this season. MANJU SHIVACHARAN / THE STATESMAN

The Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team has gone from setting out to prove people wrong to proving itself right this season, as the team enters the America East Championships on Friday evening as the top seed and a nationally-ranked top-five powerhouse, playing UMBC in the semifinals at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium at 5 p.m.

The Seawolves were not always a shoe-in to earn their third straight top seed for the America East Tournament, as Stony Brook entered the year without its loudest voice and strongest defense. Superstar-goalkeeper Frankie Caridi graduated in the spring. Her departure naturally left a void. Yet, as April nears its end, the Seawolves find themselves not only just as good as they were last season, but even better.

Rankings do not always speak truth, but the top-five Seawolves are among the nation’s elite, whether they have the number next to the team’s name or not. Last year’s suffocating defense has returned, despite losing key pieces, but the biggest change, as Head Coach Joe Spallina noted before the year got going, was the dynamic offense that Stony Brook possesses.

Any student-athlete on the squad can be the star on any given night, and one can pretty much pick the sophomores Courtney Murphy and Dorrien Van Dyke, senior Michelle Rubino, freshman Kylie Ohlmiller or others out of a hat as performer of the game and nobody would truly be surprised.

In the America East Tournament and beyond, having everyone ready and able to contribute will be of the utmost importance. It is inevitable that a team will scout Stony Brook and slide to Murphy on one day, or throw a double-team at Ohlmiller on another. If the Seawolves keep the ball moving fluidly, someone will be open, and it will be the receiver of the pass’ job to finish the sequence off.

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Despite their elite defense, the Seawolves will need to keep up what they showed they could do on the offensive end all season long. The Albany Great Danes, the only other America East team that is nationally ranked, happens to have one of the most potent attacks in the country.

Led by Maureen Keggins, the nation’s leader in points per game, the Great Danes have averaged nearly 15 goals per game. Yet, Stony Brook managed to stifle the squad when the teams played at LaValle Stadium back in April. Albany only came away with five goals on the day, and if they should end up facing the Seawolves for the title, they will be looking for revenge.

First, though, the Seawolves will have to get by UMBC, the team that Stony Brook beat 13-7 earlier in the season, clinching hosting rights for the conference tournament in doing so.

Coming off of a big win over seven-time National Champion Northwestern, the Seawolves’ game against the Retrievers was a spot that one may expect a team to lose focus. However, a strong first half propelled the Seawolves to the win, as five members of Spallina’s group scored two or more goals in a total team effort.

It cannot be said enough that even though Stony Brook has proven everybody wrong by putting together arguably the best season in the history of Seawolves Athletics, many people still underestimate the depth of this team. Last season, it was all Murphy and Van Dyke, with Rubino doing the two-way work. This year, those who rarely see the field can pitch in just as well.

Sophomore Kristin Yevoli and senior Amber Kupres would fit in as strong offensive forces on any other team in the conference, yet they have combined for “just” 27 goals and four assists on the season. That is a testament to the pure talent the Seawolves have.

Again, freshman Samantha DiSalvo may have an underwhelming total of seven points on her young career, yet she has proven that if necessary, she can run onto the field and do her part.

What is concerning and could cause problems is if the Seawolves fall behind in the second half. This causes the draw control to become as important as ever.

Stony Brook has shown improvement not only from last season but throughout this campaign as well, but the team is still 93rd in the country in that department. There is no truly weak position on this team that warrants a lack of confidence, but if Spallina’s squad has a must-win draw late in a game, will it be able to control? That is not an easy call.

If the Seawolves hang tough at the circle against their America East foes, there will be no problems. Stony Brook has the best defense and the most talented offense in the league.

However, the likelihood of that happening for the two-time defending conference champions is slim. After suffering their only loss of the year to Johns Hopkins, the Seawolves have learned their lesson of not going into a game with their guard down.

Even though Stony Brook will get into the NCAA Tournament with or without the America East’s automatic bid, they will be looking to head to the national tournament with momentum.

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