Goalkeeper Charlie Campbell transferred to Stony Brook one year ago for moments exactly like this one.
With her team trailing 7-6 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Campbell made six saves in six minutes to single-handedly shut down Rutgers’ offense. The graduate student finished with a season-high 12 saves in the women’s lacrosse team’s 11-7 victory on Sunday at LaValle Stadium.
“I knew this team would push me until I came apart in order to be the best goalie that I could be,” Campbell said. “I loved my time at Virginia, but I wanted to go back to playing tough, gritty Long Island lacrosse. It ain’t pretty, but it works. I don’t care if I have to go through you, but I’m getting to that ball.”
Campbell was just one piece of a defensive effort that will go down as one of the best in program history. The No. 8-seeded Seawolves held Rutgers scoreless through the last 27 minutes of regulation behind four caused turnovers from defender Haley Dillon, all of which came in the second half.
“[Rutgers] was beating our defense in the beginning,” Dillon said. “We focused on us. We got better triangles, better talking, and it just worked out.”
Rutgers’ seven goals were their lowest since March 2014, even though their 19 shots on goal were one more than Stony Brook’s. Rutgers took only two shots in the fourth quarter.
“Without our defense we don’t win this game,” head coach Joe Spallina said. “I challenge our kids every day … to go do that against an elite offense. I tell them all the time, you don’t punch somebody like this [with an open hand], you punch them like this [with a closed fist].”
The Seawolves will face the top-seeded University of North Carolina in the third round on Thursday, the team that Stony Brook lost to in last year’s third round. A win would mean the first Final Four berth in school history.
Attacker Kailyn Hart led Stony Brook with three goals to record her 11th-straight hat trick. With Rutgers focused on shutting down midfielder Ellie Masera (two goals, one assist), Hart was one of seven goal scorers on the team, some of whom only scored once or twice during the regular season.
“All of our goals can come from anywhere at any point,” Hart said. “I think today it was just different girls, which is awesome.”
Stony Brook took a 3-0 lead in the first three minutes behind a pair of goals from midfielder Kyla Zapolski. But a series of Seawolves turnovers allowed Rutgers to go on a run of its own and take a 4-3 lead by the end of the first quarter.
“Early on, we were all over the place,” Spallina said. “I can see everybody’s in panic mode. My job as the head coach is to … keep them calm and press the reset button. We know we’re good.”
The Scarlet Knights struck first after halftime to tie the score at seven. They would not score again the rest of the game.
Campbell saved goals in every which way during the third quarter — kicks, dives and leaps — bailing the Seawolves out while they committed nine fouls during a 15-minute scoreless stalemate. Her most impressive stretch came when she saved three goals in the final two minutes of the quarter.
“My defense was incredible in front of me … but it was on me to make the save,” Campbell said. “Thankfully I did more times than I didn’t.”
“[Campbell] was the one saving our butts at the end of the day,” Dillon said. “Every time she had a save, I’m screaming ‘Hell yeah, Charlie.’”
Hart, Masera and midfielder Siobhan Rafferty scored in the fourth quarter, during which Stony Brook dominated the time of possession battle. When Rutgers called its final timeout with five minutes left, the game was all but over.
Now, the Seawolves will have the chance to exorcize last year’s demons. This is the fourth time in five years they have reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament.
“Stony Brook will not touch foot on North Carolina campus with an ounce of fear,” Spallina said. “We’re going there to win a lacrosse game.”