Since 2013, Stony Brook has been the premier women’s lacrosse program in the America East.
In that span, the Seawolves have won 28 of 29 conference games, they have led the conference in scoring offense and scoring defense all four seasons, they have won four regular season championships and this weekend, they will look for their fourth consecutive America East Tournament Championship.
This season, none of the Seawolves’ conference wins have been within seven goals. In America East play, Stony Brook junior attacker Courtney Murphy outscored the team’s opponents on her own, by a 38 to 23 margin.
But No. 6 Stony Brook is not taking the America East Championships lightly, especially if the team takes on Albany in the title game on Sunday.
“The Albany game is always exciting because they’re our rivals,” sophomore midfielder Samantha DiSalvo said. “I think we always come out with a lot of energy against them. It should be an exciting atmosphere and we thrive in that kind of atmosphere.”
But Stony Brook’s quest for its fourth straight conference championship begins on Friday evening against New Hampshire in the semifinals. After winning their first three America East games, the Wildcats have now lost three conference games in a row, including a 11-4 loss to the Seawolves on April 16, during which New Hampshire stalled continuously.
“It starts with the draw,” junior midfielder Dorrien Van Dyke said. “Like our coach says, ‘win the draw, rule the world’ and I think that’s going to be the most important thing Friday.”
Such a philosophy from head coach Joe Spallina has sparked the team’s America East play. Freshmen midfielders Keri McCarthy and Kasey Mitchell have split duties in faceoffs this season, with McCarthy’s 36 draw controls in conference tying for fifth in the league’s history.
Spallina, who was named the America East Coach of the Year at Thursday’s conference banquet, reiterated the focus ahead of Friday’s semifinal.
“We realize that anyone we play in our conference tournament is going to play slow, very deliberate, and stall,” Spallina said. “It’s important for us to control draws and play at a frenetic pace, forcing teams to play at the pace that we want to play.”
If Stony Brook plays Albany in the final, it would be the fifth consecutive meeting between the two teams in the title game. The Seawolves concluded their regular season with a 13-4 win over the Great Danes last Friday to clinch the conference tournament.
“Lacrosse is a game-to-game thing,” Spallina said. “There’s tendencies and stuff that you can study [about Albany] but I think when you look at where we are, we can’t get wrapped up in that stuff. We’re going to approach this game like it’s a faceless opponent.”
Seniors Maegan Meritz and Alyssa Fleming lead Stony Brook on defense. Fleming, named the conference’s co-Defensive Player of the Year, has caused 34 turnovers this season. The unit is backed by freshman goalkeeper Anna Tesoriero, who set an America East record with a 3.56 goals against average in conference play.
Beside the two Tewaaraton Award nominees on offense — Murphy and sophomore Kylie Ohlmiller, who have a combined 172 points this season — the role of the team’s third attacker has been shared throughout the season by senior Taylor Ranfle and junior Alyssa Guido, who have started nine and eight games, respectively.
Guido has stepped up in particular in the last three games, registering 12 points over the span.
“She’s unselfish and she has great vision,” Spallina said. “She is someone that has been able to maximize our inside game. She has been able to make Murphy even more dangerous with her feeding ability.”
A more-dangerous Murphy is a menacing proposition for opposing defenses. Murphy, named the America East Player of the Year, has a nation-leading 85 goals this season. The junior sits five goals from the Stony Brook single-season record and 13 goals from the all-time NCAA record, set in 1984 by Delaware’s Karen Emas.
But that chance for history is not a focus this weekend for Stony Brook.
“While we have an eye on some of those marks, the number that matters most for us is two. Two wins,” Spallina said. “If we play as many games as we anticipate that we will be playing, every record will get smashed.”
With two wins, the Seawolves would secure an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Stony Brook will seek its first of the two wins on Friday evening, when the team hosts fourth-seeded New Hampshire at 5 p.m. at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium.