Midfielder Ellie Masera in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Drexel. Masera scored two goals against UNC in the quarterfinals, but Stony Brook fell 8-5. ETHAN TAM/THE STATESMAN

For the second year in a row, the Seawolves’ best was not good enough to advance to the Final Four.

Despite a defensive effort for the ages and a one-goal lead during the third quarter, the Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team fell 8-5 to the top-seeded University of North Carolina (UNC) Tar Heels in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday. 

Stony Brook (16-3) outplayed its status as the No. 8 seed, holding the 20-0 Tar Heels to season lows in goals and shots on goal (16). It was the only quarterfinal match that was not a blowout.  

The Seawolves also prevented UNC attacker and Tewaaraton Award finalist Jamie Ortega from scoring any goals, marking just the fourth time in her five-year career that has happened.

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“This was once again a reflection of a really terrible job by the selection committee, that the only close game of the whole day was the 1-8 game,” head coach Joe Spallina said in a press conference. “That’s something that’s holding the sport back from truly growing.”

But none of that changes the fact that Stony Brook is headed home. In nine straight years of NCAA Tournament appearances, the Seawolves have yet to make the Final Four, with this being the second year in a row they have squandered a late lead against UNC.

In short, the Seawolves lived up to their “scrappy upstart” status — not that a squad with aspirations of being national champions ever wanted to do that.

“Our defense was fantastic,” Spallina said. “I thought our goalie play was awesome. But at the end of the day, we have the number one team in the country on the ropes, and we should make enough plays.”

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Goalkeeper Charlie Campbell, playing in the last game of her career, saved six of the Tar Heels’ first 10 shots on goal. But UNC scored twice in the last three minutes of the third quarter to take a 6-5 lead and begin a 4-0 run. Attacker Andie Aldave had all of her game-high three goals during said run. 

Stony Brook did not score in the game’s last 20 minutes, and the frustration was evident as the final seconds ticked away. Spallina got into an expletive-laced argument with the officials following a perceived no-call, and the team struggled to maintain any momentum on attack.

“Free positions is a point of contention for me,” Spallina said. “For them to have nine and for us to get one token one at the end, it’s almost like fate.”

Stony Brook’s offense ran through midfielder Ellie Masera, who scored twice and took 11 of the team’s 22 shots. Eight of Masera’s shots were on goal, but UNC goalkeeper Taylor Moreno saved four of Masera’s last five shots.

Midfielder Jaden Hampel scored twice in two minutes to tie the game midway through the second quarter. Midfielder Siobhan Rafferty added another goal seconds before halftime off an assist from midfielder Kyla Zapolski that gave Stony Brook a 4-3 lead.

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Despite the disappointment, Stony Brook’s championship window remains wide open. The team’s three leaders in points this year — Masera, attacker Kailyn Hart and Hampel — are all juniors or younger. 

But longtime star midfielders Rayna Sabella and Rafferty and defender Haley Dillon have reached the end of their careers — bodies claimed by UNC, just like Taryn Ohlmiller and Ally Kennedy last year.

“These kids are special,” Spallina said. “They work so hard. They care so much. It’s bigger than the game. They play for the community, they play for each other.”

The Tar Heels, two wins away from a perfect season, will face No. 4 Northwestern in the tournament semifinals on May 27. It is UNC’s 10th Final Four berth in 13 years.

 

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