For Stony Brook lacrosse midfielders Michelle Rubino and Amber Kupres, the common denominator for success was impressing coach Joe Spallina, though in vastly different ways.
Rubino and Kupres begin their final postseason for the highly ranked Seawolves (18-1), who will host Princeton Sunday at noon in the second round of the NCAA women's Division I tournament. Rubino and Kupres, both seniors, have combined in their careers for 237 goals, 74 assists, 252 ground balls and 318 draw controls.
Four years ago, Rubino became Spallina's first significant recruit when he was hired to start the 2012 season. Rubino's hard work in high school had caught Spallina's eye and he signed her for Adelphi, where he had won three straight national titles. When he announced he was leaving for Stony Brook, Rubino followed him. "It's exciting," Rubino said. "I know if I would follow him, he'd do just as great here. He's proving that right now."
Rubino is the team's best all-around player. "Everybody leaves the game saying 'My God, that No. 1 is incredible,' " Spallina said. "She's not front and center on the score sheet but we don't win games without her."
Kupres, who attended Connetquot, already had been accepted to Stony Brook before Spallina's arrival. She had to survive Spallina's philosophy of out with the old, in with the new when it came to configuring a roster.
"I knew very little about her," Spallina said of Kupres. "She's a kid who's played just about every minute of every game since she got here. These guys have been such a huge part of this. I came in, I said 'we're going to do this we're going to do that,' I don't know if I ever really believed that we could do it. Then you watch these kids grow up in front of you. I'm a fortunate guy. They're not the lucky ones, I'm the lucky one."
It's not easy impressing Spallina. "I knew from the very beginning it was going to be a challenge," Kupres said. "He's not the type of person that's going to hand you anything. You have to work for everything that you get. He's pushed me more than any other coach. Obviously, it's worked out in my favor. He's never giving up on me."
Spallina said Kupres has never given him reason to doubt her. "The kid goes 110 miles an hour," he said. "She never takes a play off, she never misses a run back on defense. I never have to question how much she cares, how she works. It's important to her."
Spallina wants to go deep into the tournament as a reward for players such as Rubino and Kupres.
"At some point, we're going to win a national championship," he said, "I would give anything for it to be this year with this group but for some reason if it doesn't happen, when we do, they should be the ones picking the trophy up."