Eight isn’t enough.
The Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team got a solid battle from Albany before ending the conference season with what has become an annual ritual: celebrating an America East Conference championship and hoisting the trophy. This time, the Seawolves defeated the Great Danes 16-9 behind a five-goal performance from midfielder Ally Kennedy (North Babylon) and an exceptional grinding defensive performance by Rayna Sabella (Mount Sinai) at LaValle Stadium.
Sixth-ranked Stony Brook (14-2) has now won the regular season title, tournament championship and clinched an automatic berth in the NCAA in eight straight seasons. However the plan is for this to just be a signpost along the road to a first Final Four or even a first national championship. It has never advanced beyond the Round of 8.
The 29-team NCAA Tournament field and its top eight seeds will be unveiled on ESPNU on Sunday at 9 p.m. The Seawolves are unlikely to be one of the first three seeds and get a bye; they have a strong chance of earning a top-eight seeding despite coming out of a one-bid conference and could host an NCAA first-round game on May 14.
"For some teams winning the conference championship is the Super Bowl. For us it’s the beginning," SBU coach Joe Spallina. "We've got a track record of winning games in the NCAA tournament. We don't have a track record of getting to championship weekend. We've been knocking on the door for a long time and I feel like this is the kind of group that can kick the door down."
Kennedy, the conference tournament MVP, continues to rewrite the program and conference record books. Her five goals not only pushes her past Stony Brook great Kylie Ohlmiller for second on the program’s all-time list, it gave her a record 12 goals for the conference tournament.
"I definitely focus on the one day at a time mentality while also in the back of my head knowing the goals I want to accomplish," Kennedy said. "I want to take this team to the Final Four and do things for this program that have never been done."
Three other Seawolves were named to the all-tournament team: goalie Kameron Halsall, attacker Taryn Ohlmiller (Islip) and midfielder Kaeli Huff (Easport-South Manor).
Sabella caused four turnovers and collected four ground balls as the SBU defense forced Albany (11-7) to use more than 70 of the 90 seconds on the shot clock to get something off several times.
"This was one of our best defensive performances," Sabella said. "When you make a stop on defense or you run out a shot clock or get that shot clock down to the last few seconds, it's a complete momentum swing."
Sabella picked off a pass with about eight minutes left in the first half to get the Seawolves into transition and Sarah Pulis ended up finishing on the other end of the field for an 8-3 lead.
Stony Brook didn’t exactly coast from there. When the Danes’ Sarah Falk scored her third goal the margin had been whittled to 9-6 with 24:58 to play. SBU replied with three unanswered goals including two of Huff’s three scores.
"She's not a kid that’s going to be overwhelmed by pressure," Spallina said of Huff, a Southern Cal transfer. "She’s been a tremendous addition to our team and . . . she’s got ice in her veins in those big moments."
Ohlmiller had two foals and four assists and Halsall made seven saves for the Seawolves. Madison Conway scored four times for Albany.