It was not going to be easy transitioning from the America East Conference (AE) to the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). However, the Stony Brook women’s soccer team made do with the tough hand it was dealt.
The Seawolves had low expectations from the outside world coming into the 2022 season. The team was picked to finish in 10th place in the preseason CAA coaches poll. Those expectations were valid, after all. They were projected to win the AE for a third straight year in 2021, but missed the playoffs entirely. Then, their two leading scorers graduated. Moving to a deeper, more competitive conference was not going to make a bounceback season come any easier.
However, a recruiting masterclass by head coach Tobias Bischof and his staff helped fully rebuild this team and turn it into a surprise story. A plethora of young, talented players helped Stony Brook become the highest-scoring offense in the CAA with 40 goals. This high-level offense allowed them to clinch the sixth seed in the postseason tournament. The team went 7-8-4 overall and 4-2-3 in conference play.
“Going into the CAA, our goal now was to make the playoffs,” Bischof said in a podcast interview with The Statesman. “The coaches in the CAA during the preseason polls didn’t think that we would be capable of doing that. That probably played a little part in our motivation as well.”
As the sub-.500 record implies, it was not all smooth-sailing for the Seawolves in 2022. The team jumped out to a 3-1 start in August, highlighted by an exhilarating walk-off win in the season opener against Fordham. Once the calendar turned to September, Stony Brook won just one game for the entire month. After losing their first game of October, the Seawolves earned points in their final five games to ascend through the standings and clinch a playoff berth.
Stony Brook officially clinched in the regular season finale with a 2-1 comeback win at Hofstra. That victory aged well, as Hofstra went on to win the CAA Postseason Tournament. However, the Seawolves’ season ended in the first round of the tournament with a 2-1 loss at Northeastern.
Bischof was impressed with the team’s in-season turnaround that ultimately led to the postseason appearance.
“You’ve got to give credit to the players,” Bischof said. “How they believed in what we were doing, how they bought into our game planning, and how they battled and fought … Kudos to my players for finding a way to be successful in a much higher conference.”
Though the season ended in disappointing fashion, team co-captain and defender Catharina von Drigalski was encouraged by Stony Brook’s performance this year.
“Once we made playoffs, we wanted to win,” von Drigalski said in an interview with The Statesman. “But I think looking back now, it was definitely a very successful season for us, considering that it was our first season in the CAA.”
There were many standout performers for Stony Brook in 2022, and many of them were freshmen. Midfielder Linn Beck started all 19 games for the Seawolves and was their second leading scorer. She scored six goals and added four assists, good for 16 total points. Her efforts earned her selections to the All-CAA Third Team and CAA All-Rookie Team.
Right behind Beck on Stony Brook’s scoring list was forward Hannah Maracina, another freshman. Maracina was only 11th on the team in minutes played, but she still found time to score five goals. Of her five goals, two of them were game-winners. Forwards Luciana Setteducate and Gabrielle Côté both racked up 10 points each, giving the Seawolves four total freshmen with double-digit point totals.
All eight of Stony Brook’s freshmen forwards and midfielders scored at least one goal this past season. Despite that, Beck was the only one to receive an all-conference award.
“I thought that more of our freshmen should have been on the [All-Rookie] team,” Bischof said. “We had five freshmen starting all the games and being very impactful on our team. Obviously Linn got what she deserved. But then you ask ‘Why did other people not get on that All-Freshman Team?’ out of the freshmen we had. And that is a little bit frustrating.”
Defender and co-captain Kerry Pearson believes that the scoring from the young players may be a sign of things to come.
“I think it’s cool that our offense, and our forwards especially, are new and young,” Pearson said. “We’ll have them for a couple of more years and they’re just going to grow as players and score even more.”
The transfer portal also brought some key contributors to Stony Brook. Forward Reilly Rich was acquired through the portal after playing her first two years at Mohawk Valley Community College. Defender Morayo Adenegan also transferred to Stony Brook after playing the previous four years at Drexel. The pair of transfers played in all 19 games for the Seawolves and were regulars in the starting lineup.
Rich had a terrific first season with Stony Brook, as she led the team in most offensive statistics. She scored 21 total points by racking up eight goals and five assists. She finished eighth in the CAA in shots on goal as well. Her effort earned her a selection to the All-CAA Third Team, alongside Beck.
“Coming in, I didn’t really know what to expect for my first season at the Division I level,” Rich said. “I think I was able to generate good things for my team and help them win games. For me, that was what I wanted to do … and I felt like I did that.”
Rich was also complementary of the leadership that the Seawolves’ team co-captains showed. Pearson and von Drigalski played pivotal roles in guiding the team to success in 2022.
“I think they both are great leaders on and off the field,” Rich said. “They always do the right thing on the field. You want to be able to put your best effort in for them because you know they’re working as hard as they can for the team. They always have a positive attitude coming to practices and games, and I think it’s something that the younger girls can look up to.”
Von Drigalski did more than just lead: she broke out. The senior started in all 19 games and posted career-highs in points (11) and assists (seven). Her seven assists tied her for second in the conference, only behind Northeastern midfielder Jessie Hunt. Her 2022 season culminated in a Second Team All-CAA selection.
Von Drigalski credits her breakout season to the chemistry she built with her teammates.
“Overall, there was a better connection between individual players and that obviously helped me,” von Drigalski said.
Von Drigalski also played a big role in what was the greatest team performance in program history. During a matchup with Hampton on Sept. 25, von Drigalski tied the team record for assists in a game, tallying four in total. She also scored a goal of her own. The team broke the program record by scoring 12 goals while simultaneously earning its first-ever win in the CAA.
Defensively, the Seawolves struggled. They relied too heavily on goalkeeper Nicolette Pasquarella, who still succeeded despite the inconsistencies around her. She finished the season with the second most saves in the CAA. What makes that feat even more impressive was her playing time: she only played 11 complete games.
Pasquarella began the season in open competition with Ava King, Jordan Wolf and Emerson Richmond Burke for the starting goalkeeper position. She only played in 16 games while starting 13. Yet, she was still fourth in save percentage and second in saves per game in the CAA.
Pasquarella was a huge bandaid for a defense that allowed the second-most goals per game (1.89) in the conference. In order for the defense to improve in 2023, von Drigalski says that the three lines must play more cohesively.
“I think in general, finding an even better connection between the midfield and the defensive line will help us,” von Drigalski said. “Obviously, defense starts with the forwards. I think we had a couple of games where the connection was off. I think we found it towards the end of the season, but if we can find a better connection between the midfield and defensive line, I think we’ll do even better.”
Losing Adenegan to graduation will not help matters. Pearson believes that finding a solid replacement for her will be another key to improving the team’s defensive play.
“I think the most important thing is going to be finding a good center-back that will play with me and having us mesh together,” Pearson said.
The Seawolves’ biggest asset moving forward is not necessarily their scoring ability, but their youth. They will be retaining a large portion of their roster, allowing for more roster continuity in the future. The only player out of NCAA eligibility is Adenegan. However, von Drigalski would not confirm if she is returning for a fifth season or not.
Even so, all other key contributors to the team have at least one year of eligibility left.
“As a team, we are super young,” Rich said. “I think we showed we could compete in the CAA and hold our own and be a force to be reckoned with for upcoming years.”
Melanie Karniewich and Kenny Spurrell contributed reporting.