The Stony Brook men’s lacrosse team made a strong — albeit, nail-biting — start to 2020.
Amid an impressive 5-1 record, with four of those wins by one goal and two in overtime, the team took to the road for a game against the Bryant Bulldogs on Mar. 7, 2020. The 15-11 loss stung, but the Seawolves were prepared to rebound a week later back at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium against Hartford. The pandemic then ended the 2020 season and the stinging feeling of that loss was all the men’s lacrosse team felt for months as players wondered what the future held for them.
When the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced universal eligibility extensions at the end of March, the decision was almost too easy to make for the seniors who knew what this team was capable of.
“I think it took about 30 seconds for us to all say that we’re coming back when Coach said that we got the waiver in,” graduate attackman Cory VanGinhoven said in an interview with The Statesman. “He looked at us, and he goes, ‘You guys coming back or what?’ and we all just nodded our heads and went ‘Yep, let’s run it back again.’”
Nearly a year after their defeat, the team proceeded to run the same Bulldogs over 14-8 on Feb. 20 to avenge the loss. The pandemic created doubts that Stony Brook could even get a chance to do so. With a returning veteran roster, an infusion of talent from transfers and recruiting, along with a full year under head coach Anthony Gilardi, Stony Brook is looking as poised as ever to be one of the best teams in the nation.
“From a weird point of view, last year was kind of a blessing in disguise for this year,” senior midfielder Connor Grippe said. “You have a new coaching staff, new system, new rules and all that kind of stuff we all learned last year and now we can come into this year going 100% knowing exactly what we’re doing. I think that helped us out.”
Just by looking at the scoring numbers within their first two games, it’s clear that the Seawolves have a potent offense. Among the returning veterans are graduate attackmen Tom Haun and VanGinhoven, midfielders senior Mike McCannel and junior Matt Anderson, and team leaders in Chris Pickel Jr., Tom Dugan and Grippe. The team’s depth is apparent with last season’s overtime specialist, junior midfielder Caleb Pearson, as well as key substitute contributors in redshirt-senior midfielder Wayne White and junior midfielder David Miele-Estrella.
“Selfishly for me, we get so many of our great players back,” Gilardi said with a smile. “The greatest thing that could have happened was the NCAA granting guys another shot.”
But with so many returning players drawing the defensive focus, transfer stars Dylan Pallonetti and Matt DeMeo have shined bright as the two have accounted for 16 of the team’s 34 total points through their first two games. Pallonetti, a Stony Brook native who transferred home from Maryland, recorded six goals in the season opener against Sacred Heart. Meanwhile DeMeo, the grad transfer from Maritime, has been consistently giving the Seawolves goals from day one.
The offense may have the scoring eye candy, but the stout defensive front of the Seawolves is certainly fearsome. Stony Brook returns numerous starting defenders: graduate CJ Trenkle, seniors Devin O’Leary and Danny Cassidy, and sophomore Michael Sabella. Anchoring in the cage is new starting junior goalie Anthony Palma, who has posted an impressive 62% save rate on 70 shots faced in two games.
Rounding out the team is the solid contributions from the faceoff squad, as starting juniors Renz Conlon and Austin Deskewicz have combined for 29 of 53 faceoff wins to help give the Seawolves the possession advantage.
If last year proved anything, it was that nothing is guaranteed. In order to avoid feeling the way they did in 2020, this team continues to grind and play as though their season could be canceled tomorrow.
“Last year sucked,” Grippe said. “We ended the season not on our own terms and no one wants to do that. So we just took it day by day. None of us took it for granted, we worked for the man next to us and we hoped to get back out on the field to do what we love to do.”
As they work hard to keep their season, there is a lot to be excited about for the Seawolves, who have entered the national rankings for the first time in four years. However, the players have noticed something missing from it all: the fans.
“I think pregame, and right before the national anthem played, was when we really noticed the most that the fans weren’t there,” Trenkle said.
With veteran leadership and talent across the board, this is an underdog team that is capable of making noise by the conference playoffs. If everything clicks the way it has been so far, this is a squad that could be eyeing a run at the NCAA Tournament. For now, the team’s focus is the day-to-day efforts that make winning teams.
Haun, one of the program’s top career goal scorers, put it best: “Coach talks about this all the time. You never know when your last practice will be. Why not play as hard as you can and enjoy it?”