Junior defender Brooke Gubitosi carries the ball on March 24 against USC at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium. Gubitosi ranks eighth in the NCAA in caused turnovers this season. ARACELY JIMENEZ/THE STATESMAN

It all started in math class at Northport High School, five years ago.

That’s where Brooke Gubitosi bugged Dorrien Van Dyke, her classmate, best friend and teammate on the Tigers, every day to play college lacrosse at Stony Brook. At the time, the university was an upstart local program with head coach Joe Spallina just being hired after winning three straight Division-II titles at Adelphi.

Gubitosi had already committed to be a Seawolf, and with enough persistence  — “even my dad was bugging Dorr,” the defender recalled — she convinced Van Dyke to be a Seawolf too.

For Stony Brook, Van Dyke, a midfielder, was an immediate star. She won America East Rookie of the Year in 2014, while Gubitosi was forced to sit out with a medical redshirt for a stress fracture in her shin.

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But since then, Gubitosi has proven that she was not a mere recruitment tool; she can play herself. Now in her second season of starting for the Seawolves, the redshirt junior ranks eighth in the NCAA with 2.67 caused turnovers per game, the most by a player at a ranked school.

“She’s one of the best defenders in the country,” Spallina said after a recent game against Colorado.

On the Stony Brook defense, the No. 5 unit in the nation, Gubitosi plays the role of a “backer” in the zone, patrolling in front of the goal with freedom to read plays and intercept passes. She has no specific responsibility to stay guarding an individual player or area of the field.

Spallina likened her to a free safety in football.

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“She’s someone who can see the play develop beforehand then close in, make a good angle, and make the play that’s in front of her,” Spallina said. “She directs our defense and takes away the inside players of the other team, which has been a big advantage for us.”

Gubitosi, who at 5-feet-9-inches is the fourth-tallest player on the Stony Brook roster, uses her length and athleticism to leap and snatch cross-field passes with her stick to spark a breakout for the offense.

“I think my wingspan helps me out,” Gubitosi said, spreading her arms to her side. “I play with my stick up a lot.”

She and the Seawolves defense faced difficulties last month in a game at Florida, the No. 3 team in the country. The Gators clouded the team’s trip to the Sunshine State, scoring 22 goals, 15 of which came in the first half. It was the worst defensive effort, statistically, in Spallina’s collegiate coaching career.

“We just had to learn from it,” Gubitosi said. “We had to get back to what we’re good at: make teams adjust to us, instead of adjusting to them.”

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Since the loss to Florida, the team’s defense, under Gubitosi’s lead, has been smothering. In five games, the Seawolves have allowed only 31 goals. Gubitosi has recorded 19 ground balls and 18 caused turnovers over the stretch, being named the America East Defensive Player of the Week twice.

Spallina described his player’s leadership as coming from her contagious passion and enthusiasm. Her Instagram bio simply reads, “Don’t forget to live.”

“She’s loosey-goosey, but she cares,” Spallina said. “That’s kind of a rare trait when you have a kid who can laugh and change gears on the fly.”

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