There are a lot of words for a team that has won three championships in four years, but “inexperienced” is usually not one of them. Yet that’s exactly how the Stony Brook women’s soccer team proudly described themselves one week away from their first conference matchup of the 2021 season.
“We just want to prove ourselves,” sophomore defender Kerry Pearson said in an interview with The Statesman. “We have a really young team and we have the talent there and we just have to keep working hard to prove ourselves.”
It’s a strange situation for third-year head coach Tobias Bischof, who is accustomed to having a roster bursting with starpower. The Seawolves won the America East championship in both of Bischof’s years at the helm, led mostly by players who are no longer at Stony Brook. Midfielder Chelsie DePonte and forward Alyssa Francese are the only two graduate students on the roster. To complete the conference’s first three-peat since 2011, the Seawolves will need contributions from the 13 freshmen and sophomores on the roster.
That fact did not stop rival coaches from unanimously selecting Stony Brook as the preseason favorites to win the title this year, and it doesn’t seem to concern the veteran players at all. DePonte, who received first-team All-America East honors last season, is optimistic about what the team can accomplish.
“We’re technically a really young team, but everyone’s stepping up,” DePonte said. “I think we’re a really talented team. Everyone brings it, and when we do it’s really special.”
Those 13 young players have never known the culture at Stony Brook besides the belief that the season will end with a championship ring, but they are not shying away from high expectations.
“It’s probably the equal amount of pressure as last year,” Pearson said. “[We are] definitely taking it game by game. I think our first goal is that we want to make it into the playoffs. So to do that, we have to win conference games.”
Results so far have been mixed. Goalkeeping has been a strength — junior goalkeeper Emerson Richmond Burke, a returning starter from last year’s championship team, has 22 saves and an 0.733 save percentage in five starts this year. Freshman Nicolette Pasquarella has also appeared in four games and has an 0.636 save percentage.
“I think the goalkeepers in general are doing well,” Bischof said. “[Junior Bethany Dunk] is doing very well in practices. Nicolette is doing very well in practice and has already had a chance to play a couple of a couple minutes here and there. But Emerson did well in preseason, and is doing well so far. Had a couple of good games and we’re happy with how she performed overall so far.”
However, through six games, Stony Brook has scored just two goals — one each from Francese and freshman midfielder Gabby Daniels — and sits at 1-4-1. Their opponents have taken twice as many shots on goal as the Seawolves. Stony Brook scored 15 goals in its first six games last year.
“We’re still finding our rhythm,” Bischof said. “I think the offense will come when the team gets more comfortable with each other. And I think we will find a way to score goals.”
According to junior defender Catharina Von Drigalski, that chemistry will be much easier to build now that COVID-19 protocols have been relaxed. Last year, the Seawolves had a shortened schedule and could not spend much time together off the soccer field.
“It’s definitely more back to normal,” Von Drigalski said. “Last year, everyone just came on the field, we had practice and went back to our houses or the dorms. I think it definitely helps the team a lot … building these connections with the freshmen, getting way closer as a team.”
It helps that the team is already unified around a single vision.
“We always want to compete for the America East championship,” Bischof said. “And that is still the goal. And we will try to do that, as long as the season takes us.”