Stony Brook women’s lacrosse head coach Joe Spallina stood on the sideline of Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium on Sunday afternoon with his hands on his hips, cheers erupting from the crowd behind him. The Princeton Tigers stormed the field following the final horn, advancing to the third round of the NCAA Tournament after upsetting Stony Brook, 8-4.
“If we played Princeton ten times, we probably beat them nine,” Spallina said after the loss. “Today was that one time, and we didn’t do a good enough job.”
The sixth seed in the tournament, the Seawolves went into their matchup as the favorites against the No. 11 Tigers, after being heavy underdogs in the second round of the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons.
Right out of the gate, Stony Brook had chances to impose its will, but it was Princeton that jumped out to a 2-0 lead only 7:22 into the contest.
“I think early on, we missed a ton of great chances,” Spallina said. “I think we didn’t shoot so smart. One of the things we talked to our kids about was trying to get the goalie low and for some reason we shot high.”
The Seawolves, however, did not let the game get away, and grabbed a 3-2 lead before heading into the half tied at three.
“I felt great at half,” Spallina said. “We came out, we talked about it at halftime, you say listen, ‘You win 30 minutes you earn another week as a family, so what do you want to do with it?”
Right after the first draw control of the second half, freshman attack sensation Kylie Ohlmiller, who was nominated for the Tewaaraton Award recognizing the best player in college lacrosse, had herself an opportunity to put the Seawolves back in the lead.
Ohlmiller drew a foul and on the ensuing free position attempt, Princeton’s goalie made the save.
“We got a great opportunity 12 seconds into the half with the number three scorer in the country one-on-one with their goalie, we came up short there,” Spallina said, speaking about one of many missed opportunities.
In a dream world, there would be few other ways that the fourth-year head coach would rather come out of the gate in the second half.
The Seawolves could not edge ahead and Princeton did not let them back in it.
“You can’t play the way we played today to win this time of the year,” Spallina said. “But, we have a lot of young kids in big spots. It hurts.”
On the defensive end, the Seawolves did all they could to give the team a shot.
After leading the nation in scoring defense by only allowing 5.37 goals per game, Stony Brook really only allowed six, with two coming on empty netters in the final 22 seconds of the game.
“There’s not a lot more you can do to that,” Spallina said. “It hurts. It hurts.”
As Spallina said time and time again, it was a painful loss for a team that had high expectations after winning 18 games, beating five ranked opponents, taking home another America East Championship and heading into the NCAA Tournament full-steam ahead.
“This is built to last,” Spallina said. “We’ll be back here next year, we’re going to knock people around and we’ll get stronger from this. But, it doesn’t change the fact that my seniors are gone and they were a big part of establishing the legacy that we’re building here.”
Senior midfielder Michelle Rubino, who was one of if not the best player on the team throughout her time at Stony Brook, tallied an assist in the loss, while classmate and fellow midfielder Amber Kupres took two shots in her last collegiate game.
“I’m sure at some point over the next week that we’ll be able to reflect and feel good about it,” Spallina said in reference to the successful season that his team did indeed have. “But right now I just feel straight pain.”
Pain and hurt. Spallina felt it, but he was not the only one.
Sophomore attacker Courtney Murphy, who scored her 71st goal of the season in the game, felt just the same way.
“It’s just disappointing,” Murphy said. “This was supposed to be our year. Just to end like this, it sucks.”
But, even though the Seawolves lost and may not have lived up to their expectations, nobody could take away the games they won and the barriers they rammed down, breaking into the nation’s top-five and defeating a seven-time NCAA Champion in the process.
“Our goals remain the same,” Spallina said. “We’re going to win a National Championship, it’s going to happen soon. Unfortunately, we thought it would happen sooner. We’re going to have to wait another year.”