In the crisp, cool September air, the Stony Brook Men’s Soccer team finished up its final practice before heading up to Vermont to start conference play. The team ended practice with a scrimmage. The same four players took their positions at defense and keeper; it is routine at this point.
Graduate defenseman Lars Togstad, junior defenseman Danny Espinoza, senior defenseman Tavares Thompson and redshirt junior goalkeeper Tom McMahon have been the core players to start on the defensive side of the ball this season. They have been able to feed off one another, and not only help the team win games, but also keep shutting out other teams.
“Besides [Togstad], we’ve been here for three, four years and it’s always been a major focus for us,” Espinoza said. “Keeping shutouts and winning go together. If you keep a shutout, you get a win.”
The Seawolves have been able to follow that motto strongly as four of their five wins have come from shutouts. In fact, they have already surpassed last season’s total number of shutouts: two. One shutout came during Stony Brook’s season opening against Central Connecticut, the other was against then-No. 17 Hofstra. However, the team wanted more.
“Shutouts were a huge emphasis for us, carrying all the way back to spring training,” McMahon said. “We played five spring games and we didn’t give up any goals, and I think that comes from training. We made sure that it meant something to give up goals, even in practice.”
In the Seawolves’ five spring training games, in which they faced Columbia, Manhattan, Yale, Army and Rutgers, no goals were allowed by the back line and the keeper.
Before this season, it had been nearly a season since Espinoza and Thompson played with McMahon. After starting 16 matches for Stony Brook in the 2014 season, McMahon only started one match during the 2015 season, the shutout against Hofstra. Concerns about chemistry issues never stopped the defense with its shutout objective.
“Danny and I played with him our freshman year, but it was the same idea,” Thompson said. “As long as everyone was on the same page in the back, that’s all that mattered.”
While Togstad, Espinoza and Thompson are all mainstays on the defense, the left defenseman is always rotating. The swapping of players in that position does not hinder the defense, it only makes them better.
“The guy who goes in left back knows that they have one job to do, and that’s to protect the goal,” Thompson said about the left defenseman position. “They know what they need to do, and they help us try and get a shutout, so it’s not difficult.”
With the Seawolves just coming off a loss to Vermont, they look to surpass their achievements from the previous year. After hosting an America East playoff game, they were unable to find success and lost 3-0 to Binghamton. This year, they are expecting a much different result.
“I think our mindset of not conceding and scoring that first goal is going to be huge for us,” McMahon said. “I’ve been here for four years, and a vast majority of conference matches come down to 1-1, 2-1 games. Going up to Vermont and their huge crowd is going to be tough, but we have 20-25 guys who are resilient. If we can come out of Vermont with three points then come home for conference play, it’ll be a really great start for us.”
For Espinoza, Thompson and McMahon, conference play is nothing new to them. As for Togstad, he is expecting a rough road going into conference play.
“Conference play is going to be a new challenge for me,” Togstad said as he looks to his first venture into conference play. “I physically know what it’s all about. Everyone is against you on the road and it’s going to be tough. But, I think we’re going to do really well.”
As the Seawolves start conference play, defense will be a top priority for them. There’s an old sports cliché that teams live by that seems to be an unspoken motto: defense wins championships.