Senior midfielder Ally Kennedy with the ball against Ohio State on Feb. 15. Kennedy was listed by Inside Lacrosse as the sixth-best player in either men’s or women’s college lacrosse. SAMANTHA ROBINSON/THE STATESMAN

Number 12. Every major preseason poll had the same ranking for the Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team. Nike/US Lacrosse Top 20, Inside Lacrosse and the IWLCA Coaches Poll polls all ranked the Seawolves in the same place: not the best, but right in the middle of the pack. 

Coming off a second-round exit in the NCAA Tournament after a 17-8 loss to the eventual national champions in Maryland, the Seawolves saw the graduation of key seniors such as midfielder Keri McCarthy, defenders Carlee Janelli and Mackenzie Burns and last season’s America East Goalie of the Year, Anna Tesoriero, among many others. Add in the fact that many freshman and sophomores would be looking for major roles from day one, one might assume that this year wouldn’t be a competitive year for the Seawolves, but a year of growth.  

This assumption was quickly buried to the tune of a 17-16 victory over the No. 4 ranked Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome on Feb. 10, followed up by a 20-7 beatdown of the Ohio State Buckeyes later that week on Feb. 15. Despite their initial rankings, this Seawolves team is bringing veteran leadership, youthful hunger and talent to every single position and a commitment to nothing less than excellence to bring Stony Brook lacrosse back to the top.

Bringing a team to the top is no small task, but it helps to have some of the best lacrosse players in the country. Senior midfielder Ally Kennedy, the Preseason All-American and Inside Lacrosse’s sixth-best lacrosse college player in either men’s or women’s lacrosse, and senior attacker Taryn Ohlmiller, the Preseason Honorable Mention, were both named to the Tewaaraton Award watchlist.

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“It’s kind of an unreal feeling seeing my name up there with some of the best players in all of lacrosse,” Kennedy said of her Inside Lacrosse ranking during an interview with The Statesman. “But I’m still hungry to be number one by the end of the season.”

Head coach Joe Spallina had a different take on the rankings, putting it bluntly: “[w]e have the best player in college lacrosse.” Spallina was also quick to mention that Ohlmiller, who was recovering from an ACL injury prior to and during last season, is an All-American and was ready to go.

Such high honors — like those Kennedy and Ohlmiller have received — tend to demand high expectations, and both seem up to task. Ohlmiller scored a career-high six goals in the win over Syracuse, while Kennedy scored the tie-breaking goal to seal the victory. They are first and second on the team’s points list (with Kennedy’s 12 and Ohlmiller’s 11), first and second in goals with eight and seven respectively and tied for the team lead in assists.

Beyond the duo of Kennedy and Ohlmiller, many rookies have emerged as key starters for the Seawolves this season. Freshman highlight reel Kailyn Hart has emerged as one of the best offensive players on the team, currently sitting fourth on the team’s goal list with six goals including one SportsCenter Top 10 play against Syracuse and another Top 10 play against Ohio State. Some of the other freshman who have stepped up to the task include midfielders Charlotte Verhulst and Lexie Correia and attacker Erin MacQuarrie, who all scored their first career goals against Ohio State, as well as midfielder Kira Accettella and attacker Kayla Downey adding four and two assists so far. 

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“I think that I came in with a great group of girls,” Hart said in an interview with The Statesman. “I just think that we are gonna bring a lot of competition to the game that people aren’t going to be expecting for this season since we are kind of a name that hasn’t been heard about in awhile. I think now we are gonna be heard about.”

Not to be overshadowed by their younger teammates, the Seawolves have seen major contributions coming from all over the roster. Junior midfielder Sarah Pulis’ hot start to the season is highlighted by seven goals in two games, including a 4-piece against Ohio State, nearly matching her season total of eight goals in 15 games last year. Junior attacker Jesse Arline has had a similar breakout, with her four goals in two games approaching her six goals in 10 games last year. 

As for the defense, senior defender Sydney Gagnon and junior defender Haley Dillon have both aided in stopping the explosive Orange and the Buckeyes, the latter of which was completely shut down at times as they were unable to get anything going due to the relentless defense.

Finally, the buck (and every shot) stops with the goalie: redshirt-sophomore transfer Kameron Halsall. The former Rutgers goalie has shown up in all phases of the game, stopping 10 shots against Syracuse then helping execute 17 perfect clears later that week against the Buckeyes. 

Spallina and the team seem to be on the same page: confident that the Seawolves can accomplish anything. 

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“He’s a great coach, a great leader, a great mentor,” Kennedy said after the win against Ohio State, with Pulis and Hart nodding in agreement alongside her. “He’s always gonna push us in the right direction and he knows how to coach each individual to their full potential. He’s gonna be our best friend and at times we might butt heads but he always has our best interests at heart. I would go to war with him any day.”

If it’s a war they want, it’s a war they’ll get. Having already played a national title hopeful in the Orange and a Big Ten opponent in the Buckeyes, the Seawolves’ season is littered with the top teams in the nation. On Feb. 29, they will take on the Florida Gators, who bested the same Maryland team that bested the Seawolves in the playoffs. Beyond that, Princeton, USC, Hofstra, Colorado and Johns Hopkins are all teams in the Top 25 or are receiving votes. Their conference play in the America East will close out the year, completing a schedule that will be challenging to go through. But the team’s response is simple: to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. 

“It is super awesome that these teams are willing to play us,” Ohlmiller said. “We want to put as much time and effort into our schedule as we can so that when we do get to that [national] championship weekend after taking it one game at a time, that we will be prepared for it.”

“This is what we do every year,” Spallina said of his tough schedule as he looked on at practice. “This isn’t something new. And this is why our kids come here. This is why we get some of the top kids in the country that wanna play lacrosse here. If you wanna be the best team, and our goal is to win a national championship, you gotta go play the best teams.”

Or, as Halsall put it, “We have a goal to take every single team down — one at a time. We just wanna keep lining them up and knocking them down.”

But despite the challenge required to reach their ultimate goal, Spallina believes that the team’s ability to grow is the key to success, rather than the weakness.

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“The nice thing about having a young team is our ceiling,” he said after the win against Ohio State. “Most of these veteran teams are as good as they’re gonna be now. We have such an ability to grow as a team with so many impactful younger players [sic]. And to have two dominant seniors in Taryn and Ally are really good. One of the things for me is that with Ally scoring four goals and Taryn getting three points; For us to get the point production from other places is everything.”

Armed with a team ready and able to succeed against the top competition women’s lacrosse has to offer, it’s hard to underestimate these Seawolves now.

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