The Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team watched its ticket to its first ever NCAA Final Four slip from its fingers in last season’s final moments loss to the eventual winner of the Final Four, as Maryland ended Stony Brook’s program’s best season ever.
Head coach Joe Spallina did promise one thing after last season’s loss.
“Stay off the bandwagon, we’re coming for you next year,” Spallina said last year.
Now, with Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium set to host the NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Final Four in May, the Seawolves have plans of raising a trophy in their house.
Spallina has a majority of his roster returning to the field for the 2018 season, but none more impactful than redshirt-senior attacker Courtney Murphy. Murphy suffered a season-ending ACL injury against Northwestern last season and was able to redshirt. Two seasons prior, she was the gold standard of goal scoring.
Murphy was the first college women’s lacrosse player in Division I history to score 100 goals in a season. She also broke former player and volunteer assistant coach Demmianne Cook’s program record of 156 career goals, had a career-high 16 assists and led Division I with 116 points.
But, this is the first year where the landscape has changed for Murphy.
“I think my mindset is completely different this year than it has been in previous years,” Murphy said. “To have that year off, I’ve really been able to get a different perspective of the team and the sport in general. So, with that said, I think my mindset, along with the rest of the team’s mindset, is just one step at a time.”
The other big name on the team is senior attacker Kylie Ohlmiller. She had one of the greatest seasons in collegiate women’s lacrosse history last year. She was the first ever Tewaaraton finalist in Stony Brook history, broke the single-season record for points and assists and finished the season with 164 points, better than the 2001 record of 148 points set by Maryland alumna Jen Adams. Now, she aims for an even better year.
“I think that just being the best teammate and leader,” Ohlmiller said on how she can top her tremendous previous season. “Because I know that at the end of the day, my teammates’ goals and my biggest goals is to win a national championship with these teammates right beside me. Just trying to be the best Stony Brook team we can be.”
Her team failed to make the Final Four, which was a personal goal for her. Now with her goal of a Final Four sitting right in her stomping grounds, she knows what they need to do.
“The Final Four being here in May is just a light at the end of the tunnel,” Ohlmiller said. “It’s motivation for us, it’s a motivating factor every day, we hear it in the back of heads. But right now, we have to focus on being 1-0, then 2-0. Without that, we can’t get to May and be here in our stadium. So that’s our biggest focus, one game at a time.”
The Seawolves’ season kicked off Friday night in Los Angeles to take on the No. 5 USC Trojans. Stony Brook started the season ranking as No. 2, but received first place votes for the first time in program history. The team beat USC 14-10 and followed up the win with a 15-9 victory over No. 23 Stanford on Monday. With the dynamic duo of Ohlmiller and Murphy back on the field together and combining for five goals in the team’s victory over No. 5 USC Friday night, Spallina is excited to see the next level his offense has.
“You know, I hope so, I hope at least two more goals for our team,” Spallina said about his offense’s potential. “We led the country in assists, so we really harp on the fact of moving off the ball and making smart team decisions. Kylie is usually the last or second to last person to touch the ball. I think now, that can change a little bit. Kylie will continue to be Kylie, which is being the best player in the world, and she’s got two other prominent attackers behind her.”
Even with the Final Four still months away, Spallina, the one who taught his players to focus on one game at a time, can’t help but to be excited to host it and have a choice to play in front of their own fans.
“I’m a straight shooter, I’m not going to hide from the fact the Final Four is in our building and someone is going to raise the trophy in our building, and it sure as hell better be us,” Spallina said. “I’m sure no one wants someone coming into their living room and taking their dinner and then leaves. To me, it’s something that we embrace, I lived through it at Adelphi. I think we’re a team that’s based on being gritty and hardworking and confident and blue collar, and when you do things, you don’t hide from them.”
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Redshirt-senior attacker Courtney Murphy is making her return to the turf after sitting out last season to a torn ACL, one of the most difficult injuries to come back from. In the four games she played last season before her injury, she had already tallied 14 goals and two assists.
“I had a plan after college and a job lined up right out of college, and when something unexpected like that happens, it kind of throws your plan off a bit,” Murphy said. “But, thankfully I had the opportunity, because if it was one game later, I wouldn’t have been able to redshirt. I really think that that was a silver lining and it helped make the decision to come back.”
With a returning 100-goal scorer in Murphy and the all-around game of Ohlmiller, Murphy is excited to test out how powerful her offense can be.
“I think we have a ton of firepower,” Murphy said. “In my earlier days, if you shut down one or two people, our team was done. Now, this year, we have midfielders that can come up and contribute on offense.”