The Stony Brook University softball team gather into a huddle during previous games. In an America East preseason poll, five out of six rival coaches predicted the Seawolves would win the conference. ARACELY JIMENEZ/STATESMAN FILE

Over the past few years, the Stony Brook softball team has accomplished nearly everything there is to accomplish — broken records, deep playoff runs, individual accolades — but the one thing that has eluded them since 2013 is a championship ring. With a core group of players that ranks among the program’s best ever set to depart after this season, there’s some added pressure to win a title this year.

Fittingly, the Seawolves are early favorites to earn the ring. In an America East preseason poll, five out of six rival coaches predicted the Seawolves would win the conference. But head coach Megan Bryant isn’t scared of the hype. 

“They say pressure is a privilege,” Bryant said. “We’ve got a unique group with our five grad students back … and I think that’s going to be a difference maker.” 

Those five graduate students — pitcher and two-time America East Player of the Year Melissa Rahrich, outfielder Jourdin Hering, catcher Jordyn Nowakowski, infielder Riley Craig and outfielder Alina Lance — are certainly in a unique position. Because COVID-19 ended their 2020 season after just 14 games, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) allowed them to return for a fifth year.

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That extra time gives them an added level of experience, and it’s also tightened their friendship. 

“This fifth year has only made us come a little bit closer,” Hering said. “I definitely think that there’s a huge advantage with the five of us on the field, and you can tell that we do really well together.” 

As Rahrich explains, that bond only adds to the team’s drive to win a championship. 

“That ring is what’s going to do it for us,” she said. “Especially for the people that I’ve been with since freshman year.”

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That bond also helped the team thrive during the most unusual offseason in NCAA history. 

“We weren’t able to go out and play other teams,” Lance said. “We had to play each other and we had to force each other to be better.”

The Seawolves’ identity has long been their pitching, and that seems unlikely to change given their talent at the position. Senior pitcher Dawn Bodrug, who led the America East last year with an eye-popping 0.74 ERA, is preparing for her first full season with the team. Together with Rahrich, she’s one half of the best pitching duo in the conference. Both have sky-high ceilings, and the team will shine if they can reach those ceilings often.

Of course, none of that is to suggest that the Seawolves don’t have reliable bats. Hering played some of the best softball of her career in 2020, easily leading the team with a .431 average. 

Rahrich was stellar as always, driving in 13 runs while launching three of the team’s six home runs. Junior infielder Nicole McCarvill, a rising star who broke out with a 4-for-4 hitting performance last March against Iona, rounds out the top of the lineup.

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Stony Brook also brought in a large freshman class this offseason, with nine players set to make their debut. Their potential already has team veterans buzzing. 

“They’re all pretty well-rounded. They build off of each other… and they make us better,” Hering said.  

After beginning the season with a 4-0 series sweep at the Winthrop Kickoff Tournament in South Carolina, Stony Brook has proven that the conference is theirs to win. Rahrich already has three home runs, and Bodrug has already pitched a shutout. 

With all those stars, it’s hard not to think of what could have been last year. But rather than dwell on the past, the Seawolves are using that lost season as motivation to fuel this one.

“We built on a lot from last year,” Lance said. “We have our entire starting lineup, everybody came back this year, so we are continuing to get better.”

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