It is not easy to cope with the departure of a 10-person senior class that accounted for seven of 10 starters in the 2016 men’s lacrosse campaign, but such is the nature of collegiate sports. The turnaround is fast and it hits hard. Every team is without its pillars of the recent past. The best programs take transition in stride, navigating seamlessly from one era to the next.
But last year’s Stony Brook squad was special, consisting of the program’s all-time leading scorer, Brody Eastwood, and just one of five Seawolves to record over 200 career points, Challen Rogers.
And neither of them led the team in scoring. That honor went to Matt Schultz.
All of these faces, which have served as the program’s poster children for the past four years, are now gone, setting the stage for a new era of underclassmen to rise through the ranks.
There are 18 freshmen on this year’s Stony Brook men’s lacrosse team, making the class far and away the largest on the team. Sophomores hold another 12 roster spots; juniors another nine; seniors just seven.
“We lost that big senior class that scored all those goals. We’re just moving guys around and trying to figure it out,” head coach Jim Nagle said. “I think top to bottom we may be more athletic, but we’re just a little unseasoned and we’ve got a lot to work on, that’s for sure.”
Four of the Seawolves’ six leading scorers from 2016 season have graduated. The two remaining are midfielder Alex Corpolongo and attack Ryan Bitzer, both seniors.
Corpolongo will spearhead a middy core that serves as the team’s deepest position. Known for his blistering shot that wreaks havoc from a distance, he notched a career-high 36 goal season in 2016, tied for second on the team.
Short stick defensive midfielder senior Jeff Reh was a preseason All-American selectee, while sophomore long stick midfielder Ryland Rees is coming off a breakout freshman season in which he led the team with 45 ground balls to couple 15 caused turnovers.
Reh and Rees will help fill a defensive gap left by the transfer of Ben Randall — a much heralded defensive anchor and favorite of Nagle — to Ohio State University, located in Randall’s home state.
But with Randall gone, an already youthful defensive lineup — one that Schultz accredited to reaching the prestige of the team’s offense last season, as it had been lagging behind earlier in his career — is left with a void to be filled by an underclassman.
“As a whole, just us working together, really creating that bond that we need for the season to start and try to make a run,” Bitzer said of the team’s primary offseason focus.
Nagle cited the attack as the part of the field with the most folds to iron out. While Bitzer was converted from midfielder to attack in order to bolster the position and offer tutelage to a underclassman-heavy team, Nagle will take a by-committee approach to the remaining spots.
Attack freshmen Tom Haun and Cory VanGinhoven got the starting nod during the team’s season-opening 12-11 win at Sacred Heart. Haun impressed with a team-leading four goals, pegging him as an early favorite to solidify a spot in the starting rotation.
“We’re trying to figure out the attack still and I think we’ll just be a different team with a lot of two-way potential,” Nagle said.
After winning the starting spot as a surprise performer during his freshman season and splitting time evenly with now-graduated transfer from Boston College Zach Oliveri last season, junior Brandon Maciejewski will serve as the Seawolves’ sole resident in the cage. His 2016 save percentage of .554 would have been good for 15th in Division I, but he did not eclipse the minimum amount of minutes played required to be officially ranked.
Last year’s team — which peaked at eighth ranked in the country — was poised with the talent, maturity and chemistry to finally capture a National Tournament berth that has eluded the team since 2010, only to suffer an upset to Vermont in the America East semifinals.
This year, a flurry of fresh faces have softened expectations: the team was ranked fourth of seven in the America East preseason coaches’ poll, behind Albany, Hartford and Vermont. But for the players, the goal remains the same.
“We’re definitely, definitely ready to get that America East Championship,” Corpolongo said. “It’s kind of eluded us throughout my three years playing so far, but I think it’s well in our reach this year and we’re going to go after it with everything we have.”