Stony Brook men's lacrosse head coach Rick Sowell before a...

Stony Brook men's lacrosse head coach Rick Sowell before a game against the University of Vermont. (May 1, 2010) Credit: Photo by Joseph D. Sullivan

Here is how the 2011 men's lacrosse season begins for Stony Brook University:

A team with a ranking fit for a national contender. A player, Kevin Crowley, in strong consideration for the Tewaaraton Award as the sport's top collegiate performer. A team eager and anxious to go where only the elite reside - deep in the NCAA Tournament.

There indeed is rarefied air surrounding Stony Brook lacrosse. The expectations are weighty but welcome after last season, when Stony Brook (13-4) won the America East title, beat Denver in a first- round playoff game and gave mighty Virginia a huge scare before losing, 10-9, in front of 10,000 fans on the Stony Brook campus.

"We don't want to be one- hit wonders,'' senior Jordan McBride said. He spoke of the possibility of turning Division I upside-down by yielding a contender not named Duke, Virginia or Syracuse. A contender that is ready to do some damage.

"We're that team right now,'' McBride said. The season can't start soon enough for the Seawolves, ranked fourth in one preseason poll, as they set out to prove they are a player in the national picture. That starts Saturday, Feb. 26, when Virginia visits in the season opener.

"We took the program to places it hadn't been before,'' Crowley said. "That was definitely important to the school and community around Stony Brook. I believe that success breeds success, and now we have that big-game experience going in. That can only help us in the long run for this season. I think our team welcomes the challenge. It's a fact of life that it's going to be there. It serves as motivation.''

Or, as teammate Tom Compitello of Hauppauge said, "We have a good thing going and we want to keep that going for as long as possible.''

Crowley, already the top pick in the Major League Lacrosse draft, will be marked by every opponent. He is ready, saying, "It's going to make me an even better player because if people are going to pay extra attention to me, that will have to make me step up my game. Throughout the course of the year, I can only hope that I'll be getting better knowing that I have to bring my 'A' game every game. I guess I welcome that challenge.''

For Stony Brook to surpass last season, it would have to make the Final Four. Coach Rick Sowell (fifth season, 76-77) has high hopes.

"We've created a monster and we won't back down from that,'' he said. "We'd much rather have it this way than the other way, where no one is talking about you. I'm not complaining; it comes with the territory . . . We have a lot back. I'm not going to hide from that.''

Sowell has had to retool his defense - he expects a big season from Manhattan transfer Kyle Moeller - but what an offense in Crowley (51 goals, 26 assists), McBride (48-8), Compitello (37-36), Robbie Campbell (20-17) and Kyle Belton (24-5). Adam Rand, who won 62 percent of his faceoffs, also returns.

Crowley said his personal goal of putting Stony Brook on the lacrosse map is reaching fruition.

"When we were coming in as freshmen, I wanted to try and get Stony Brook to be considered competitive with the top teams that I grew up watching,'' he said. "I think we've made steps toward it. We're not there yet, but that's kind of what we are working towards.

"I think everyone recognizes the importance of the first game and where that will put us the rest of the season. Everyone wants another crack at Virginia.''

And the NCAA Tournament.

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