The women’s lacrosse team huddling before their game against USC on Feb. 23. Both graduate midfielder Ally Kennedy and graduate attacker Taryn Ohlmiller announced their intentions to return after the NCAA announcement of the extension of eligibility. SARA RUBERG/THE STATESMAN

“We were having a great year,” head coach Joe Spallina said in an interview with The Statesman. “We were ranked really high. We had beaten a top five team on the road and we had the carpet pulled out from under us, just like everybody else in the country. It was disheartening and there were a lot of things that you realize you took for granted.”

Spallina has seen it all since taking over the program in the 2012 season. But like everyone else, 2020 threw him and his Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team for a ride. It appeared that the end was nearer than expected for the storied careers of graduate midfielder Ally Kennedy and graduate attacker Taryn Ohlmiller, just two players in one of the strongest rosters Stony Brook has ever seen. 

The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) extension of eligibility had hardly been announced yet before the pair announced their intentions to return.

“Once we were able to get that extra year for me and Ally, I knew that looking forward to this year was even more exciting,” Ohlmiller said.

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The return of not just one, but two of the best players in the nation to a stacked squad that showcased their immense potential a year ago would be enough to excite any coach in any sport. Throw in a talented and already-productive freshman class who could one day rival the teams who came before them, and the question is: Could this be one of the greatest teams that Stony Brook has ever seen?

Kennedy, who was named U.S. Lacrosse Magazine’s Preseason Player of the Year, and her fellow All-American on the attack in Ohlmiller will garner many of the headlines. As Spallina points out, though, championships are not won with just two players. 

The team also brings back senior midfielder Siobhan Rafferty, a 50-goal scorer in 2019 who missed 2020 with an ACL injury. Throw in fellow senior midfielder Sarah Pulis, senior attacker Jesse Arline and graduate midfielder Kaeli Huff, a USC transfer, this group of savvy veterans are intimidating. 

However, the young guns still shoot to score. Sophomore attacker Kailyn Hart, who’s shown herself to be a SportsCenter highlight waiting to happen, and freshman midfielder Jaden Hampel, the rookie scoring phenom, prove that the Seawolves have an arsenal of weapons ready to score at will.

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Keeping that energy going is sophomore Charlotte Verhulst, who has combined with Kennedy to form one of the most lethal draw control duos in the nation, giving the Seawolves a massive possession advantage against any team that they face.

An offense is only as good as their defense allows them to be. Hardly an issue for the Seawolves, as graduate Sydney Gagnon, senior Julia Markey and freshman midfielder Clare Levy bolster a defense that held No. 15 USC to only three goals.

The buck stops with returning redshirt-junior goalkeeper Kameron Halsall. Rebounding from a tough game against the No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels, which was added to their schedule only days before they played, Halsall has returned to form in recent games and is right where the Seawolves need her.

For this team, the goal is as simple as it gets: winning it all. One of the top-ranked programs in the nation for the last few years, the Seawolves have had the national championship on their minds. It is no small feat, but this team is as stacked and experienced as any other in the country. 

They are certainly the best in the America East, owning a 42-game win streak record in conference play and seven consecutive conference titles. However, the “big one” continues to be the ultimate prize this year, just as it was last year prior to the pandemic.

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Despite all the exciting aspects of the team and the lofty aspirations that come with it, there has been and will continue to be the overhanging possibility that this season goes the same way as the last: ending prematurely due to the pandemic. This Seawolves squad is dedicated to making this season count, and they are doing everything to make it happen, mainly by adopting the mindsets necessary to do so.

“Appreciating every day is something that I have brought into this year because of how my senior year last year ended,” Kennedy said. “Just appreciating not only every game, but every practice and moment around my teammates, I know it’s going to be special. And when I’m done here, I want to look back on all of these moments.”

Kennedy and Ohlmiller have certainly left their marks on in Stony Brook history as Seawolves legends. However, this year presents an opportunity of a lifetime for the pair who have been together since their freshman year in 2017. With one more season left with the teammates and friends that they have made, the two are using this chance to lead the younger players and show them what Seawolves lacrosse is all about, much like the girls who played before them. This will be their final shot at championship glory donning the Seawolves red and blue. 

“Second chances don’t really come around that often,” Ohlmiller concluded. “So I think that we were granted this second chance, and we are taking that into our practices and games. And we are really bringing those freshmen and underclassmen into that mindset. Because the seniors who were there when we were freshmen did the same for us and we’re really excited to do the same for our freshman.” 

It certainly will not be an easy road ahead, but this team and these players are as capable as any before them to win their first national championship.

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