Stony Brook Restores Identity, Returns to Title Talks
Courtney Murphy hit a milestone with her 150th career goal, but the only number that mattered to her was Stony Brook’s 2-3 record after their 14-10 loss to USC on March 14.
“Since I’ve been on the team, I don’t think we’ve been under .500,” said the Seawolves junior attacker. “It was a big wake-up call. We changed our identity. We realized we can’t just show up on the field and win.”
Two weeks later, Stony Brook is 6-3, riding a four-game win streak after their biggest victory of the season – a 17-7 defeat of then-No. 8 Stanford on March 26. With the upset, the Seawolves jumped from No. 16 to No. 9 in the Nike/Lacrosse Magazine Top 20.
“We had a couple big wins last year, and this year, we definitely needed a top 10 win for this team,” said Murphy, who had a season-high six goals against the Cardinal. “We were trying to ride off last year and it wasn’t working. We needed to get some respect back.”
After going 17-4 in 2014, Stony Brook went 18-2 last season, which featured wins over ranked teams Notre Dame, Florida, Albany and Northwestern. Until the Seawolves downed Stanford on Saturday, they had yet to record a win over a ranked opponent in 2016. Their slow start opened the door to whispers that they weren’t as good as last year.
“The program has had those signature wins in the last couple years, but this team needed one,” said Stony Brook coach Joe Spallina. “It was time for this team to officially turn the page and kind of get our own identity. This team getting its identity was getting our program’s identity back, getting that blue collar identity back.”
The biggest factor in the turnaround is that the Seawolves are healthy again. The day before they played Florida, Stony Brook found it would have to play without midfielders Kristin Yevoli and Kasey Mitchell due to injuries. Samantha DiSalvo, too, had been playing through an injury that would have kept her out if Spallina thought they could have afforded it. But they needed every available hand with Yevoli and Mitchell on the sidelines.
“Kristen Yevoli, she’s a do-it-all midfielder for us,” Spallina said. “She’s probably our most irreplaceable player in the sense she plays offense, she plays defense, she’s on our man-up, she’s on our man-down. She’s great, great, great for us on the draw controls.”
As key members of the draw unit, losing both Yevoli and Mitchell was felt the greatest in the midfield. Both Florida and Northwestern held 13-2 draw control advantages over Stony Brook, and both games ended in 7-6 losses for the Seawolves. The two returned to the lineup together last week.
“Getting them back helps,” Murphy said. “The draw control was what put us in tough positions. We had to rely on our defense to get the ball back for offense. Now that we have Kasey taking the draw and Kristin Yevoli is on the circle, that fast break we were missing is back. We got so many goals in transition against Stanford. Having them back is great. It puts our team all together.”
The Seawolves are working on finding their chemistry and their four-game run is an indication it is shaping up. They had an 11-2 lead against the Cardinal and never gave their opponent a chance to shrink it.
“Our 60 minutes against Stanford is probably our best 60 minutes we’ve had since I’ve been at Stony Brook,” Spallina said.
After leading Stony Brook with 71 goals in 2015, Murphy continues to lead this spring with 36 goals while bringing a veteran presence to her expanded role, which includes being a captain. Her overall game has developed thanks to an increased fitness level and focus on dodging and off-ball movement.
“Once we’re all on the same page and thinking the same, I think we can succeed more than last year," Murphy said.
Highlights: Stony Brook Upsets Stanford
Mar 29, 2016
Highlights and postgame interview with Stony Brook coach Joe Spallina following No. 16 Stony Brook's 17-7 win over No. 8 Stanford at LaValle Stadium.
The win over Stanford came just as Stony Brook gears up to open America East play on Saturday against Vermont. As the preseason America East favorite, the Seawolves are feeling much better about where they sit nationally after their first signature win.
“I think we definitely feel a little behind,” Murphy said. “I don’t think having three losses at this point was the plan. This past weekend was a fresh start for us. It’s a huge game we could build off of. There are lot of corrections, but this win is something we can build on.”
The Seawolves needed a win with national prominence. They aren't expected to face the same challenges from the likes of conference foes Vermont, UMBC, UMass Lowell and New Hampshire before they venture out of the America East for one game against Johns Hopkins – the only team to top them in last year’s regular season.
“The conference is definitely kind of a trap for us,” Murphy said. “It’s not a time to take our foot off the gas pedal even when we play some of those less talented teams. When do have to play those teams, I think we can use it as a learning tool, so when it comes to Hopkins, to tournament time, to NCAAs, we can use it so we’ll be ready to go.”
While Stony Brook took a big step last year with some of its best wins in program history, they lost their first NCAA tournament game to Princeton, which cut their season short, just shy of their ultimate goal. They hope to flip the script in 2016 with a faster finish after a slower start.
“The experience we gained last year, I think we played our best lacrosse early in the year last year,” Spallina said. “Having to squeeze our kids, we spent emotions having to beat the Floridas and Northwesterns in those spots. There was no way we could prepare for that. The end of the year, the effort was there, the desire was there, but whether we were spent, we couldn’t really get it going again. We played OK. It’s not like we played bad. Now, there’s a real sense of belief, not that we shocked the world anymore. I think our kids genuinely believe we can play with anybody and we can beat anybody.”
Prior to the season, Spallina was already confident about the depth of this year’s Stony Brook team, and after underclassmen were forced to step up in the absense of injured starters, the coaching staff feels even better after witnessing how well the Seawolves competed while being less than full strength.
“We really feel like our depth is something that’s improved,” Spallina said. “Our defense kind of held the fort while we got our depth back.”
After opening eyes with their success over the last two years, Stony Brook is looking to further establish itself as a national title contender. Now that they have a complete lineup, they are growing more in sync and again factoring into title talks after stopping Stanford.
“Losing those two games on the road, that’s what flipped the switch,” Murphy said. “We have to come in angry at a team. I think we finally flipped a switch and got back to our identity now.”
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