One year ago, the Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team found itself eight minutes away from history.
The No. 8 Seawolves held a two-goal lead over the top-seeded University of North Carolina (UNC) Tar Heels in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament. All they had to do was continue playing lights-out defense, and they would head to their first Final Four after seven straight years of failing to make it past the third round.
Instead, UNC scored five unanswered goals to win 14-11 and send Stony Brook home.
Since then, every Stony Brook game has been about earning the chance to avenge that loss. The Seawolves easily went 6-0 in-conference to capture another America East regular season title, but that honor was never something they were interested in.
“Day one, we meet in the locker room. Goal one, go win a national championship,” head coach Joe Spallina said. “You’re gonna do that, you’ve got to beat [UNC].”
It’s fitting that the Seawolves (16-2) are now back at the same exact spot, once again facing the top-seeded Tar Heels in the third round as the No. 8 seed. After defeating Drexel and Rutgers in the first two rounds of the tournament, Stony Brook will play at UNC on Thursday, May 19 at 7:30 p.m on ESPNU.
“For 60 minutes, we’re gonna try and beat their ass,” head coach Joe Spallina said. “We’re not going to bend our knee. We’re not going to kiss their rings. We’re going there to win a lacrosse game.”
But the Tar Heels are even more fearsome than last year. After a 15-0 regular season, UNC easily beat No. 3 Boston College 16-9 to capture its sixth-consecutive ACC championship. Its roster took home every major conference award except for Freshman of the Year.
In the second round of the NCAA Tournament, North Carolina decimated Virginia 24-2, a 22-goal victory that was the largest in program history. And Virginia is no pushover. It beat Syracuse earlier in the year, something the Seawolves failed to accomplish in their season opener in February.
“We’re ready for them,” attacker Kailyn Hart said. “They’ve been undefeated, so they’re due for a loss, and I think that’s going to be us. We’re coming for them.”
To pull off an upset, Stony Brook will need to repeat the dominant defensive display it showed against Rutgers on Sunday. Goalkeeper Charlie Campbell made a season-high 12 saves to help hold Rutgers scoreless for the final 27 minutes of regulation. However, Campbell was slightly inconsistent during the regular season and ended up splitting playing time with Kameron Halsall. She will need to keep her hot streak alive for Stony Brook to have a chance.
Campbell played for Virginia in the ACC for four years, and thus is more experienced with the Tar Heels than any other Stony Brook player. She says she transferred to Long Island specifically to play in big games such as this one.
“North Carolina is amazing, but we’re amazing too,” Campbell said. “I want to work as hard as I can for [my team]. They deserve it.”
Stony Brook is currently allowing 6.56 goals per game, the best mark in the country and almost two fewer than UNC (though the Tar Heels played a more challenging regular season slate). Haley Dillon, the America East Defender of the Year, has led the unit all season and has 14 caused turnovers in her last four games. She has 48 caused turnovers this year; no one on UNC has more than 20.
Dillon and her teammates will have their hands full against fifth-year attacker Jaime Ortega, whose 457 career points are the most in ACC history. Inside Lacrosse ranked Ortega as the nation’s second-best player before this season, and she lived up to that standard with 60 goals and 38 assists.
The Tar Heels have four other players with at least 50 points this year. Stony Brook has just two: Hart (78 points) and midfielder Ellie Masera (85 points). Both Hart and Masera took home America East awards as the best player at their respective positions.
Masera leads the Seawolves with 85 points, and at one point had more points per game than any other sophomore in the country. In last year’s loss to UNC, four Stony Brook players scored at least two goals. Masera is the only one still on the roster.
Hart is riding a streak of 11 consecutive hat tricks and has scored five or more goals five times this year. On Thursday, she says she will have revenge on her mind.
“North Carolina ended seasons for [former Stony Brook stars] Ally Kennedy and Taryn Ohlmiller,” Hart said. “We want to get back at them, and we want to end their season.”
It will all come to a head at Fetzer Field. Stony Brook views itself as a lacrosse program on par with that of any other in the nation, and spoiling UNC’s perfect season would cement that claim. A win would also mean the first Final Four berth in the history of Stony Brook athletics.
“We understand what’s in front of us,” Spallina said. “We played there twice last year. We know the hotels, we know the warm-ups, we know the locker room. Goals don’t change no matter who we have to play. You have to play great lacrosse this time of the year. You step on the field, and you dance. Or you don’t, and you hand your stuff in.”