Feeling overlooked, the Stony Brook men’s soccer team has a lot to prove as it enters its second year in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA).
In their inaugural season in the CAA last year, the Seawolves did not play well. The team’s 3-6 conference record was not enough to clinch a playoff spot, as it missed the mark by three points and finished in eighth place out of 10 teams. Overall, Stony Brook went 5-11 and had the worst offense and the second-worst defense in the CAA.
Now with a restructured roster and different strategic approach, Stony Brook hopes for redemption. Its aspirations to defeat conference opposition rose even higher following the release of the 2023 CAA men’s soccer preseason poll.
Opposing coaches picked the Seawolves to finish last in the now 11-team conference. Additionally, Stony Brook had no players featured on the 2023 All-CAA Preseason Team or given an honorable mention.
Head coach Ryan Anatol disagreed with the poll and felt his team was personally slighted.
“To be down at the bottom when we finished in eighth last year, it’s a little disrespectful for the group,” Anatol said in an interview with The Statesman. “Individually, we have guys who deserve recognition. It’s interesting that a guy like Jonas [Bickus], who was a Preseason Honorable Mention last year and made the All-Conference team — and is now one year older and better — doesn’t get any preseason accolades this year.”
Instead of hanging their heads, midfielder Bas Beckhoven and the rest of the team will use the preseason rankings and honors as a motivation tool.
“It’s 100% motivation,” Beckhoven said. “The afternoon that the rankings came out, you can see around the locker room that everyone was sharp. The whole energy in the group was not like ‘Why are they doing this?’ but [rather] ‘Let’s prove them wrong.’”
A reminder of the preseason poll will be pasted on every player’s locker.
“We put pictures on every locker that shows the ranking to remind us each day,” goalkeeper Edmond Kaiser said. “We were a little shocked; we don’t see ourselves in that position.”
Bickus was the top offensive weapon for the Seawolves last season. The forward played in 15 of the team’s 16 matches and attempted at least one shot in all but one. He led Stony Brook in goals (six), assists (three), shots (33) and shots on target (17). His campaign earned him a spot on the 2022 All-CAA Third Team.
Bickus was one of four forwards on the roster last year, but the only one to consistently get playing time. Forwards Kameron Blaise and Selcuk Kahveci started just three matches apiece, while forward Olsen Aluc made two starts. Blaise has since graduated. With a new playstyle imminent for the season, Bickus will get more support from other forwards and the midfield.
Instead of playing an isolated role, Stony Brook’s top scorer will have help up top.
“Last year was more direct,” Beckhoven said. “We used to skip lines, almost used to skip the midfield. Now, we try to build from the back, keep the ball and be more patient with it. We want to use the midfield instead of finding Jonas up top the whole time.”
One of the new additions who will partner with Bickus is forward Johan Velez, who is a graduate transfer from Manhattan. In four years with the Jaspers, Velez tallied eight goals and two assists in 34 games played. Although Velez’s primary role is as a striker, the same position Bickus plays, Anatol said he could be moved around the attack.
Another player who could take up multiple offensive roles is forward Caleb Danquah. His speed could prove crucial for the Seawolves, as they lacked that attribute on the field for most of last season. Also a transfer portal acquisition, Danquah scored three goals and assisted two in 12 games as a freshman for St. Francis Brooklyn.
Additional new Seawolves on the attack are freshmen forwards Finlay Oliver and Aidan Kolbe. Anatol likes their size and physicality, and will give them chances to play this year.
Stony Brook’s new expected style will put much more pressure on its midfield, especially in a technical aspect. Midfielder Amit Magoz shines in that department. In his first year for the Seawolves, Magoz’s playmaking won him minutes throughout the season. He started in the last 10 matches he played in and ended the year tied with Bickus for the most assists on the team with three. He also scored one goal.
On Magoz’s side could be midfielder Trevor Harrison. Harrison was pushed up the field to play as a winger because of the lack of attacking options last season. However, with the new transfers, his physical presence and technical ability are vital in the midfield. Harrison started in 12 of the 15 matches he appeared in and scored two goals — both in the season finale — while assisting a pair.
Midfielder Lorenzo Selini, a junior transfer from Hofstra, is also competing for a spot in the midfield. In two years with the Pride, Selini appeared in 27 games off the bench, scoring a goal and assisting two. Selini’s defensive skills could also land him on the Seawolves’ backline.
A returner bound to have a more significant role is midfielder Bruno Penney. He was one of only two freshmen last season to start a match, starting in seven of the 14 games he played.
Stony Brook also returns midfielder Moses Bakabulindi, who played in 14 matches last year (eight starts) and scored two goals. The junior possesses a lot of speed and is going into his second year with the team after transferring in last year. Given the lack of depth at forward, he will likely play there more this year.
Rounding out Stony Brook’s stacked midfield are two freshmen options: Kyle Smith and Alex Fléury. As a defensive midfielder and attacking midfielder, respectively, the two could be utilized by Anatol in different formations.
Despite bringing in several transfers, Anatol still values the freshmen acquisitions.
“I think when you look at college athletics, there are so many transfers taking place,” Anatol said. “You’re going to see less freshmen on rosters in every sport. For us, the freshmen are important. I’m a big believer in developing players.”
Beckhoven is also listed as a midfielder, but he may take on another role this year. He played the second-most minutes on last season’s team as a central midfielder and could be asked to do the same as a left-back in 2023.
With the departure of several defensive starters, Beckhoven has stepped up on the backline to fill the voids.
“In the beginning, it was a little bit hard for me,” Beckhoven said. “I’ve played left-back before, and we lost a lot of defenders, so we tried it, and it went pretty well. So I wouldn’t be surprised if I was playing there a lot this season.”
The Seawolves’ new scheme stems from the defense. Playing from the back will impose a lot of pressure on Stony Brook’s defenders, but the players expected to be featured on the backline proved themselves to be technically sound.
At the right-back slot, defender Jon Jelercic took over toward the end of last year and is expected to retain the position. In his first year at Stony Brook, Jelercic started in nine of his 11 matches played. His breakout performance came against Charleston in a win that snapped the team’s losing streak. On that day, Jelercic scored a goal and assisted another to earn CAA Rookie of the Week honors for that week. For his performance as a freshman, Jelercic was selected to the 2022 All-CAA Rookie Team.
Defenders Iker Alvarado and Sean Towey are set to occupy the two center-back slots. Alvarado started in 13 of his 14 appearances last season, most of which were at center-back.
Towey is another player switching his position. Commonly a fullback, Towey has been moved to center-back to supplant defenders Rondell Payne and Evan Peters, who both graduated this past offseason.
Although not the most physical unit, the technical ability of the Seawolves’ defense could help improve the team.
“We have a less physical defense, but with the ball, we’re better,” Beckhoven said. “We can try to find passes on the ground instead of chipping it to Jonas right away.”
Another position that will bring out competition is goalkeeper. Kaiser and goalkeeper Curtis Copenhaver are the two clear-cut favorites for the slot, having combined in 2022 to lead the CAA in saves per game as they shared time on the field.
Despite having to battle for a single spot, the goalkeeping unit is in a healthy state.
“It’s great competition,” Kaiser said. “We have great chemistry. It’s good energy. Even though we are missing a goalkeeper coach, we are making the best out of it.”
With expectations from CAA opponents as low as they could be, the Seawolves’ goals for themselves supersede them many times over.
“The goal is to make the playoffs,” Anatol said. “We have a history of doing that in my time here. We know it’s going to be difficult.”
Stony Brook’s season kicks off on Aug. 24 when it hosts the Long Island University Sharks at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium.