Stony Brook women’s lacrosse coach Joe Spallina recalled the story of Tee Martin when describing the potential of this year’s team.
Martin, the heir apparent to Peyton Manning at Tennessee after he was drafted first overall by the Colts, defied expectations to lead the Volunteers to a 13-0 record and national championship in 1998.
With Stony Brook transitioning from the record-shattering years of Kylie Ohlmiller and Courtney Murphy, Spallina is searching for his own Tee Martin. He thinks he might have one or two.
“I think it’s really accurate,” Spallina said. “When you look at having these really super high-end players graduate, and there are players, while everyone’s focusing on that, that are emerging below. You look at how kids push themselves to get to the top.”
No. 5 in the preseason national poll, Stony Brook opens its season on Feb. 22 against Colorado — the latest start in the country — before finishing its West Coast swing against Denver on Feb. 24.
While some teams opened two weeks earlier on Feb. 9 — and many more a week later on Feb.16 — Spallina purposely held off to spend more time with this group. Impact transfers and first-time starters simply needed more time to build chemistry and prepare after a heartbreaking 12-11 overtime loss to Boston College in the NCAA quarterfinals.
Once the season begins, a challenging non-conference schedule should boost the team’s national standing while playing in the woeful America East. The Seawolves play Towson on March 1, Stanford on March 3, Princeton on March 9 and Florida on March 23, just to name a few national powers on deck.
“We’re getting better and we’re emerging, and it’s so great to see the light bulb go on for some of our younger players who were riding shotgun in the past,” Spallina said. “Now, they’re driving. They’re in charge.”
Losing Ohlmiller and Murphy to graduation leaves 183 goals unaccounted for, but Spallina isn’t overly concerned. Stony Brook led the nation in assisted goals (236) and shooting percentage (.547), so he thinks the team’s pass-heavy offense will create new scorers.
Junior Ally Kennedy is a natural fit for Spallina’s midfield. He lauded her growth last year and is singing her praises again. Taryn Ohlmiller, Kylie’s younger sister who tore her ACL in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, is back with “no limitations.” Keri McCarthy will take the draw and be an offensive threat as well.
That trio doesn’t even include transfers Sara Moeller (UMBC), Nicole Barretta (Temple) and Sabrina Tabasso (Loyola), who will all have opportunities. As will new starters Siobhan Rafferty and Rayna Sabella, both sophomores, in the midfield.
“I think there are threats all over the field and we mesh well together,” said Kennedy, who’s coming off a 48-goal season. “The new transfers who came just fit right in, and it’s pretty much like the missing puzzle pieces.”
“It might be death by a thousand wounds instead of by two, and that’s cool,” Spallina said. “That will be tougher to scout and prepare for.”
Defensively, Anna Tesoriero is the anchor as a four-year starter who’s never missed a game between the pipes. Mackenzie Burns slots into the top defender role vacated by the graduation of Brooke Gubitosi, while Carlee Janelli, Haley Dillon and Rachel Williams also will start.
Collectively, they’re trying to channel their inner Tee Martin.
“I had no idea who [Martin] was until [Spallina] told us the whole backstory,” Burns said. “I think that’s kind of who we are. We have a bunch of kids who never were recruited to top 10 schools, and we’re all out here. Now, we’re a top-five team in the country.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ally Kennedy, Junior, Midfielder
The North Babylon product had 48 goals and 21 assists while also tallying 47 ground balls and 61 draw controls. A do-it-all middie with speed to burn.
Taryn Ohlmiller, Junior, Attack
She missed the NCAA quarterfinal against Boston College with a torn ACL but still produced 52 goals and 55 assists in 20 games. The Islip native has scored at least 101 points in both career seasons.
Mackenzie Burns, Senior, Defender
The America East first team selection from West Sayville started 20 of 21 games last season, picking up 29 ground balls and causing 14 turnovers.