Reaching the pinnacle of college sports to become an NCAA Division I student-athlete is impressive. Crossing national borders to accomplish that feat is downright difficult.
Take Stony Brook men’s lacrosse midfielder Matt Anderson, who has done exactly that.
In the 2021-22 academic year, 188,682 student-athletes competed at the Division I level. Of that sum, only 12,540 were international students — including Anderson, who is from Ontario, Canada. Now a graduate student in his fifth and final season with Stony Brook, the all-conference player figures to be a fixture in the Seawolves’ offense.
Anderson is excited about the opportunity to not only lead Stony Brook’s offense, but also help the team prove itself in a new conference.
“I feel like [the CAA] is definitely a step up from the America East,” Anderson said in an interview with The Statesman. “We can prove ourselves and show that we can play with anyone in the country. It’s given me an exciting opportunity.”
Moving to America to play lacrosse was not something that Anderson had considered until he joined a travel team as an underclassmen in high school. Seeing the achievements of his peers helped Anderson realize that playing at the Division I level was attainable for him, and not just a pipe dream.
“I started playing travel in grade 10,” Anderson said. “After a few tournaments, a couple of coaches started reaching out to me. A lot of my friends I grew up with playing lacrosse were committing around the same time, so I knew I was capable of doing something I wanted to do.”
Rather than committing early, Anderson took his time to find the school that was the right fit for him both on the field and in the classroom.
“I just kind of took it in stride,” Anderson said. “I know a lot of people try to just rush it and commit and just be done with it. I tried to just take it one step at a time and really try to evaluate what’s going to be better for me in the future athletically and academically.”
In the end, there were three schools vying for Anderson and his talents: Lehigh University, the University of North Carolina and Stony Brook. Ultimately, Anderson decided to become a Seawolf due to a positive first visit with the school.
Anderson felt a strong connection to coaches and some players already on the team. He was also impressed with the team’s track record with Canadians.
“I just had a really good visit,” Anderson said. “I knew a lot of Canadians went here and they had positive experiences. We played a few scrimmages here over the weekend when I first visited and I really enjoyed it. So after that, I just committed.”
Before coming to Stony Brook, Anderson spent a year at Emirates Prep in Vaughan, Ontario. Anderson feels this experience was valuable to him because it allowed him to adjust to American field lacrosse, which differentiates from box lacrosse in Canada in both rules and playstyle.
“That taught me a bunch,” Anderson said. “Learning the ropes of field lacrosse, it’s a lot different from box. I think that helped me a lot.”
Anderson’s freshman year at Stony Brook challenged him, as the transition to field lacrosse did not come as seamlessly as he hoped. Despite the hardships, Anderson looks back at the year with fondness. Upperclassmen Ryland Rees and Tom Haun helped show him the ropes, making his transition to Division I life a little bit easier.
“It wasn’t the easiest transition for me,” Anderson said. “A lot of the older guys took me under their wing and helped me stride by stride to find my fit.”
Following a shaky freshman season in which he only appeared in four games, Anderson began his sophomore season by scoring seven goals in as many games. The momentum came to a screeching halt after Stony Brook’s season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The elongated offseason leading up to his junior year did not seem to impact Anderson at all. He became an integral part of the Stony Brook offense, tallying 21 goals and 11 assists in just 14 games played. He helped lead a star-studded group to an 8-6 record and the America East Conference (AE) playoffs.
Anderson carried that momentum into last season, adding another 25 goals and nine assists. During the 2022 season, Anderson was the Seawolves’ go-to player in the clutch, as he totaled four game-winning goals.
“At the end of the game, someone’s going to have the ball in their stick,” Anderson said. “If it does come to me, I’ve got to be ready and just seize the opportunity.”
Anderson’s impressive season garnered him an All-AE Second Team selection. His play not only caught the attention of the AE voters, but also of the National Lacrosse League (NLL). With the 33rd overall pick in the second round of the 2022 NLL Draft, the Philadelphia Wings selected Anderson. This fulfilled a lifelong dream and kick-started plans for his career after Stony Brook.
“When I saw my name pop up on screen, it was awesome,” Anderson said. “The coaching staff and I are really excited.”
Anderson will finish out his Stony Brook career before joining the Wings. He plans to leave it all out on the field and guide the Stony Brook offense to new heights before he turns his attention to his professional career.
“You’ve got to be prideful whenever you’re on the field here at Stony Brook,” Anderson said. “Our whole team works hard every single day, so to have the privilege to be one of the six guys that are on the field offensively — it’s really something I take great pride in. I try to put my heart on the line every time I’m out there.”
Now in unfamiliar territory in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), expect Anderson to once again be a difference maker for the Seawolves in 2023.