For sports teams, there consists a head coach, one or several assistant coaches and a captain. All of those positions are leaders who will show their team in the best light and be the most mature people on field, court or diamond.
Luckily for the Stony Brook men’s soccer team, there are more leaders on the team than usual this season.
“We got a lot of seniors this year,” senior defender Danny Espinoza said. “We tell each other each day, ‘We’re an experienced group, we gotta show that on the field. We tell the freshmen to stay patient, this is how we work here. The transfer [students] know too. We implant that into their brains.”
This year, the Seawolves will have eight seniors on their roster – eight players who have spent the last three years in search of the elusive America East Championship. The last time the men’s soccer team won an America East Championship was the 2011 season – three years before any of the seniors played for the team.
They will also have the right men for the job, as the team’s head coach, Ryan Anatol, and associate head coach Dannie Merida are still a part of the program. They were in their same positions the year they won the America East, and now they look to get back to the top of the conference six years later. Another connection between the teams lies within one family. Graduate defender Eric McKenna’s older brother, Keith McKenna, was on the 2011 Championship winning team.
Some differences between the teams include the experience of players. The team that won it all had four seniors on their roster, while the 2017 team doubles that number with eight. A notable difference is the amount of transfer and graduate students. The 2011 team had zero transfers and graduate students, while this year’s team has three.
Despite the America East tournament still being far away, players think that this year is their year to win the big one.
“We need to stay healthy first, and we need to stay together,” Espinoza said. “It’s gonna be a long season, there’s going to be ups and downs. We’re an experienced group. I don’t know what it is, but it feels like this year is that year.”
Stony Brook made its way back into the America East Tournament last season as the No. 1 seed. They earned the right to host a playoff game in the America East Tournament with the help of a strong road schedule and a 4-2-1 conference record. However, Stony Brook’s dream was cut short due to a last minute loss against Hartford.
Coach Anatol has the America East Championship on his mind always during the season. With a 2-1-0 record early on in the season, including wins against Canisius and Seton Hall, he is taking things one game at a time.
“We are a long way away from conference play, our non-conference schedule is important to us,” Anatol said. “Each game is important to us. Each day is important to us. At this point in the season, we need to get better with each day.”
Anatol likes to pick a game that happens early in the season and use it as motivation and a reminder for his team. That game, in his opinion, has already happened.
“When you look at the Army game, in fairness to our guys, the energy was a lot higher than our previous games,” Anatol said. “Early on in the year, you have to take a loss and learn from it. I think if we can match our intensity with each game and get higher, then we’ll be in a good position to be successful. It’s still early in the year though, so we need to take lessons from each game and get better.”
With a home non-conference matchup against Central Connecticut State for Stony Brook, the team will look to improve upon its solid early season start and take the next step on the road to another America East Championship win.
Player to Watch-
Graduate forward Robin Bjornholm-Jatta has been on the Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium field for only three games so far. After spending one year at Coastal Carolina, the forward is ready to build on his early season performance. His play has already labeled him a must-watch player for the team this upcoming season.
He may be new to the Stony Brook campus, but Bjornholm-Jatta transferred over knowing several teammates already. During his time in Norway, while playing on Rosenborg BK, he played alongside junior midfielder Serge Gamwanya and fifth year defender Lars Togstad.
In a matter of games, the transfer has changed the lineup from the previous year. In 2016, senior forward Vince Erdei was the lone striker amongst the starting 11. Since Bjornholm-Jatta’s entrance to the lineup, the system has changed. Coach Anatol has started the Norwegian forward alongside Erdei, now having two goalscorers up top instead one lone forward.
He only has one goal on the season, but do not let the statistics fool you. Bjornholm-Jatta’s play on the field has paid dividends for the Seawolves. His passing, shooting, soccer I.Q. and athleticism have made him a nightmare for opposing defenders.
However, the Norwegian does not think about himself on the field – he thinks about where his team can improve.
“So far, the experience has been okay, I only have one goal and no assists so there is definitely room for improvement,” Bjornholm-Jatta said. “So far though, we’ve had a great start, but a great start doesn’t mean anything unless you follow up with it. So we need to keep working and get some more goals and get us some more wins.”
After a strong showing early on in his first season with the Seawolves, Bjornholm-Jatta is sure to be a welcome addition to the Seawolves’ attack.