The sticks are laced, the mid-calves are rolled and the flows are pouring out of helmets in streaming waves of precision. Men’s lacrosse is back.
Stony Brook’s last three seasons have all finished in the same disheartening fashion: an America East playoff loss to upstate rival Albany.
But with the graduation of Lyle Thompson, the Great Danes lacrosse deity and only back-to-back Tewaaraton winner in men’s lacrosse history, the America East is now wide open, offering Stony Brook its best chance at rolling over the America East playoff hump and capturing its first national tournament spot in four years.
Coming off a 13-5 campaign, his best record since taking over in 2012, Stony Brook head coach Jim Nagle has never managed a group with such lofty expectations.
Although the program’s all-time career- as well as season- points leader Mike Rooney graduated, this year’s Seawolves team is returning eight starters, with the British Columbian offensive duo of seniors Challen Rogers and Brody Eastwood, two Major League Lacrosse draftees, at the helm. This season will serve as the pair’s last hurrah in their pursuit for a national tournament berth after a playoff loss to Albany has ended every one of their collegiate seasons.
“[Rooney] had an unbelievable year last year and finished his career with an exclamation point,” Nagle said. “But we have a lot of parts, and the way we run our offense is not geared through one guy. It’s more of a ball movement, motion offense, and a lot of people get opportunities.”
Eastwood netted a team-leading 62 goals last season on a 63.9 shooting percentage and was the only Division I men’s lacrosse player to bury more than half of his shots. Barring health, expect the lethal attackman to surpass the Stony Brook career goals record, which he sits 29 behind.
“When they first came here, we were a new program almost,” Nagle said of his returning seniors. “To have all those guys get all of that experience, and take their lumps, I think they know what to expect. I think they’re excited.”
Although individual records are within reach, Nagle has stressed a team-first mentality, reflected by a pass-oriented offense designed to break down defenses with heavy ball movement. Efficiency is pegged at a premium, evident by last year’s Division I best 40.2 percent shot percentage.
Eastwood’s Canadian counterpart, Rogers, flourishes in a selfless system. The midfielder notched 53 points last season, and his 23 assists were the team’s second-highest, falling only to Rooney. Rogers is the favorite to emerge as the team’s leading facilitator and has a shot at eclipsing Rooney’s career assist record, which he is 43 dishes behind.
Besides Rooney, the Seawolve’s top twelve leading scorers are returning, giving the team tremendous offensive depth. All starting attackmen and midfielders, including Eastwood, Rogers, senior Matt Schultz, junior Ryan Bitzer, junior Alex Corpolongo and senior Chris Hughes, tallied at least twenty points last season.
“We feel like we have our best group that we’ve had in years, certainly our deepest team,” Nagle said.
Stony Brook picked up senior and three-year UMass starter, goalkeeper Zach Oliveri, a Ronkonkoma native. He got the start in the season-opener on Tuesday when the team beat Sacred Heart, 17-8. Eastwood led the way in an impressive victory by scoring six goals and totaling nine points in the game.
Defensively, senior Lucas Rock and sophomore Ben Randall are returning, along with senior and second-team All-America East member Dylan Curry, who Nagle moved from long stick midfielder to defenseman.
Nagle highlighted sophomore defenseman Tyler Anderson as, “one of those guys who will really make a big stride this year.” The Shoreham-Wading River alum is positioned to make a splash and help bolster a defense that was prone to surrendering goals in bunches last season, including a late 7-0 run that led to a loss to St. John’s.
Given a LaxMagazine preseason rank of 19, and a No. 18 spot in United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association Division I Coaches Poll, the Seawolves are no longer underdogs. The stage is set for Stony Brook to make a deep playoff run.