Stony Brook’s LaValle Stadium will be rocking if the No. 2-ranked Seawolves wind up playing for the national women’s lacrosse title on their home turf in late May. But last March 5, the usually electric home crowd fell so silent that you could hear a pin drop.
Seconds after Courtney Murphy scored in a game against Northwestern, she was lying on the turf, writhing in pain with a torn ACL.
The only silver lining was that her season-ending injury occurred so early on the schedule that she was able to redshirt and return for the 2018 campaign. And her presence is a major reason the Seawolves are primed to compete for the national crown. This year’s national semifinals and final will be held May 25 and 27 at LaValle Stadium.
“The future and everything I had planned for after the season was running through my mind,” said Murphy, a Shirley native. “I thought right there that I would probably never play lacrosse again.”
Murphy is the only player in NCAA history to score 100 goals in a single season, which she did in 2016. Adding that firepower to an offense with Tewaaraton Award favorite Kylie Ohlmiller and her younger sister, Taryn, who Murphy watched blossom last season, gives the Seawolves a trio of 100-point scorers, an NCAA first.
Murphy improbably made her return to the field seven months after her March 15 surgery in an Oct. 22 fall scrimmage, a goal she had set for herself but not one that was thought to be attainable.
“Talking with coach before everything happened, fall ball wasn’t really in the plan for us,” she said. “It was more about taking my time and getting back into it. After I practiced for about a week or so, I talked to him about that being one of my goals. I didn’t want to start my first game at USC [on Thursday night], I wanted to be able to feel around and understand how it’s going to be different for me.”
“Different” has become the operative word for Murphy. She said she can’t exactly pinpoint why her knee doesn’t feel the same, she just knows it doesn’t. She said she isn’t the same player she was, one who could catch and shoot with such quickness that defenses couldn’t react fast enough.
Even if she’s a fraction of the player she was during her 100-goal campaign, Murphy’s presence alone makes the Seawolves difficult to defend. Face-guarding any one of their terrific trio leaves two other options.
Her decision to return was difficult. Murphy was ready to finish her senior season and work as a trader at BTIG, a Manhattan brokerage firm. The injury muddied her outlook, forcing her to rethink her future.
A fierce competitor, Murphy took a few days away from the team. She said she was so overcome with myriad emotions that she couldn’t be near lacrosse. But after her teammates convinced her to travel to Florida six days later for a game against the Gators, her mindset changed.
Stony Brook lost, 22-14. Midway through the game, feeling helpless while her teammates struggled, Murphy tugged on Spallina’s arm and told him decisively that she was coming back. “Now it’s an opportunity for her to write her own ending to her story,” Spallina said. “It’s not always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes you have to battle through the dark times and fight.”
Following surgery, Murphy grinded through rehab sessions, rereading the “get well” cards sent by hundreds of young fans for motivation.
Her comeback couldn’t happen at a better time, with LaValle Stadium the scheduled host of the NCAA Final Four on Memorial Day weekend.
That makes this something of a perfect storm for Murphy, who laughs when talking about how her injury could lead to something great. She could leave Stony Brook with a national title and the position at BTIG, which offered her the job again this winter.
“I get emotional thinking about the journey,” Spallina said.
So does Murphy.
“It’s something that, you can’t lie, you think about every single day,” Murphy said. “We know that there’s a lot in our path toward that, but personally it would just be really, really incredible to feel that. After everything that I’ve been through, just to know that everything that happened was for a reason. It’s kind of cliché, but it’s nice to know that everything I went through was for a purpose.”
Next time Murphy takes the turf at Stony Brook — the Seawolves’ home opener is Feb. 25 against Denver — you won’t be able to hear that pin drop. She’ll be welcomed by open arms and raucous cheers.
TOP 10 TEAMS
2. Stony Brook
3. North Carolina
4. Penn State
9. Boston College
OTHER LONG ISLANDERS TO WATCH
Sam Apuzzo, Boston College (West Babylon), A, Jr.
She was the fastest player in BC history to reach 100 career points, doing so in just 25 games.
Maggie Bill, North Carolina (Huntington/St. Anthony’s), M, Sr.
An All-American candidate before injuring her leg on April 8 and missing the rest of the season.
Olivia Conti, Towson (Wantagh/St. Anthony’s), D, So.
The 2017 CAA Defensive Player of the Year started all 19 games and was named second team All-American.
Shelby Fredericks, Northwestern (Babylon), D, Sr.
Set the Wildcats’ single-season record with 165 draw controls last season.
Brooke Gubitosi, Stony Brook (East Northport/Northport), D, Redshirt Sr.
A first-team selection to All-American lists selected by IWLCA and ILWomen, she’s the Seawolves’ top defender.
Nicole Levy, Syracuse (East Islip), A, Jr.
Named to the Tewaaraton Award watch list, she posted 25 goals and 22 assists in 19 games.
Kylie Ohlmiller, Stony Brook (Islip), A, Sr.
A preseason favorite to win the Tewaaraton, there might not be a more exciting player in college lacrosse.
Lindsey Ronbeck, Florida (Manhasset), A, Jr.
Set career highs last season in goals (53), assists (20), ground balls (35) and draw controls (21).
Claire Quinn, Northwestern (Manhasset/St. Anthony’s), A, Jr.
She led the team in caused turnovers (36) and ground balls (45) on defense last season but will move to attack.