First came the dream sequence. "I don't deny that it crossed my mind," Stony Brook University men's lacrosse coach Rick Sowell said of the possibility that his team would be playing a home game Sunday in an NCAA Tournament quarterfinal. "But that was as a dream. It was too far-fetched. Am I surprised? Absolutely."
Now comes the reality show, in the form of lacrosse royalty: Top-ranked Virginia is Stony Brook's opponent.
"They're No. 1 in the country for a reason," said Seawolves star middie Kevin Crowley (49 goals, 25 assists), the nation's top scorer along with Smithtown West's Rob Pannell (27, 47) of Cornell. "Their athleticism is a concern. But this has been an unreal ride and we want it to continue."
LaValle Stadium was the pre-determined site for today's quarterfinals that match Cornell against Army at noon and Stony Brook against Virginia at 2:30 p.m. But only the most optimistic could have imagined that Stony Brook would wind up in the right bracket at the right time to play at home.
"It was definitely one of the things you saw on the schedule that the quarterfinals were here and it would be a pretty neat scenario if it could play out," said Stony Brook's No. 3 scorer, middie Tom Compitello of Hauppauge (36 goals, 35 assists). "Especially for me, to play at home in front of all my family and friends. It's definitely going to be a great time."
The doubleheader has been a sellout since Tuesday with a crowd of 9,600 expected.
"Selling out; the excitement of it all; the support we've received from our campus and our community. It's neat for our kids who've worked so hard," Sowell said. "It's fun to be playing this time of year in front of a big crowd, but it doesn't make our task easier."
That's because Virginia is one of the best, most-balanced teams in the nation. Sophomore attackmen Chris Bocklett and Steele Stanwick are skilled scorers. The midfield features twin brothers Shamel and Rhamel Bratton of Huntington. The defense is anchored by standout goalie Adam Ghitelman of Cold Spring Harbor.
"You have to prepare for their speed, which you can't really duplicate in practice," Sowell said. "We don't want it to be a track meet. We don't want our goalie to see too many shots. We'd like to build a lead and set the pace."
That means, among other things, the Seawolves must contain the Brattons. "They're so dangerous because of their athleticism," Sowell said. "They have great range. They can shoot from 12 to 15 yards. They can change directions and they can split you. We'll send people early and often when they get ready to dodge."
Defenseman Steven Waldeck of MacArthur knows his unit will be tested. "You can't help but notice Virginia's speed and athleticism," he said. "We'll play help defense. We know they'll take a lot of shots, but we want to keep them outside and give our goalie a chance to make saves."
Stony Brook's talented man in the cage is Charlie Paar of Huntington, who was a high school teammate of the Brattons. Just another intriguing story line you could only have dreamed about when the season began.