For many teams, winning the America East tournament is something that would be worthy of intense celebration and rejoicing.
For the Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team, it is more or less just another game for a team with larger aspirations rooted in the NCAA tournament beginning next week.
On Sunday afternoon at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium, the Seawolves took home their third-consecutive America East Women’s Lacrosse championship in a 11-8 defeat of the rival Albany Great Danes in a contest that was not as close as the game indicated.
“I thought we played a very, very good game. I think the score was not indicative of the game itself,” Head Coach Joe Spallina said. “I think we were way better than them the entire game. We scored whenever we wanted.”
Such high praise of his team is uncommon for Spallina, known in the lacrosse community for his insistence on excellence and high expectations for his teams.
In a season where underclassmen Courtney Murphy and Kylie Ohlmiller earned the bulk of the spotlight offensively, it was Amber Kupres, one of the senior captains, who led the Seawolves at the Sunday matinee.
Kupres, a senior midfielder, notched her top goal output of the season with five tallies, tying her career-high.
Kupres was rather disinterested about her personal milestone, making a point to emphasize the team aspect of the win rather than her individual accomplishment.
“That’s exciting,” she said. “But I’m just glad that we won the game as a team.”
“The kid goes 110 miles per hour, she never takes a play off. She’s always the first one back on defense,” Spallina said about Kupres. “She comes up with clutch plays, in the biggest game of the yea she scores five goals. From day one, she’s been like that.”
Ohlmiller was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. The freshman attacker scored a goal and dished off five assists in the game.
Junior attacker Taylor Ranftle had two goals and three assists, earning a season-best five points.
Murphy added three goals on the afternoon, bringing her season goal total to 70, which leads the America East.
Albany came out with a clear game plan: wear down the Seawolves with long, methodical possessions and slow down the pace against the No. 5 team in the country.
Albany attacker Sarah Martin opened the game by finding the back of the net at the tail end of a five minute passing sequence to make the score 1-0 for the Great Danes, and it looked as though the underdog’s plan would come to fruition.
Spallina was unfazed by Albany trying to slow the tempo down.
“I think if you want to be an elite team you have to be able to play different styles,” he said. “We can run one time down the field and push in transition, or we can stop and spread them out. Not many teams can shift gears like that mentally.”
Stony Brook answered by dominating the rest of the first half, outscoring Albany 7-1 for the remainder of the half, leading 7-2 in turnovers forced and 5-1 in ground balls in the opening frame.
The second half began with more of the same. Kupres’ fifth goal of the game and a goal by Murphy extended the lead to 9-2, the largest the lead would get.The Seawolves began playing conservatively, focusing more on eating clock than scoring.
This allowed Albany to narrow the margin in the waning minutes of a match in which the result was already decided.
Albany finished the game with just eight shot attempts, a far cry from its season average of 27.6 shots per game.
Stony Brook’s defense is the top-ranked scoring defense in the NCAA this season.
The team’s focus now is solely on the NCAA tournament, where Spallina believes they will be seeded as a No. 3 or No. 4 when the selection committee creates the bracket late on Sunday night.
A top-6 seed would earn the Seawolves a first round bye, while a top-4 seed would earn them home-field advantage until the national semifinals in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Both would give them a home first-round matchup.
Spallina and the players do not have a preference who they play, ready to take on whomever the selection committee pits against them.
“Honestly, we’ll play anybody,” Spallina said, regarding the idea of being matched up with a powerhouse like Maryland or North Carolina later in the tournament. “I think this year it’s been pretty obvious that on any given day anyone can get knocked off.”
“I’m just going to approach [tournament games] like any other game,” Ohlmiller said. “We’ve played some huge games this season, against Northwestern, Florida and Notre Dame. Those types of games get me really amped up, so I’m sure it’ll be the same.”
“We’ve played great teams so far, and we’ve beaten great teams,” senior midfielder Michelle Rubino said. “I think we’re ready for anyone at this point.”