Despite loss, Stony Brook 'journey' was fun

Stony Brook long pole defender Steven Waldek (24)

Stony Brook long pole defender Steven Waldek (24) celebrates his score in the second half against Virginia on Sunday. (May 23, 2010) (Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

John Jeansonne

Newsday columnist John Jeansonne. John Jeansonne

Jeansonne has been a reporter in Newsday’s sports department since

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Stony Brook's lacrosse players were entitled, however briefly, to the glum looks they carried off the field Sunday after their season ended in a 10-9 NCAA Division I quarterfinal loss to Virginia. As long as there are scoreboards at sports events, one team is going to go away disappointed.

But if there is nothing to be gained beyond victory, then why play the game in the first place?

"I don't want to talk about the game as much as the team and what they mean to me," Stony Brook coach Rick Sowell said. "You hear talk about 'the journey,' and this was one heck of a journey."

Against the nation's top-ranked team, Stony Brook's lads brought Sunday's SRO crowd of 10,024 into their 2010 season narrative of giddy, unexpected progress and held them there. Back from an early deficit of 5-1 to gain ties at 5-5, 7-7 and 8-8, Stony Brook had Virginia coach Dom Starsia considering how he would handle a shocking loss.

"When you're standing on the sideline in a game like that, everything goes through your mind," Starsia said. "I was prepared to come in and tell you that I was proud of my team, no matter what."

The no-matter-what would have included a Jordan McBride score for Stony Brook on a hurried shot with 28 seconds remaining - except Virginia goalie Adam Ghitelman of Cold Spring Harbor cut off the angle and made the save. And maybe another Stony Brook surprise and a season full of them.

"Our whole season has been like that," Stony Brook goalie Charlie Paar said of his team's unforseen surge to a 13-4 record, the first NCAA tournament victory in the school's history and first advance to the quarters. "At the beginning of the season, we were ranked 28th, I think."

By Sunday, they were No. 8 and squeezing the last drop of skill and focus out of Virginia, which was making its 33rd NCAA appearance and seeking its fifth national title.

"Against the best team in the country, we had our hands full," Sowell said. "We showed up and played. We'll probably drive ourselves nuts thinking about the ifs and buts for a long time, but I'm more bummed by the fact that we won't be playing next week. We won't have a practice to go to.

"The fun's over. I'm bummed by that. The finality is tough to take right now."

Stony Brook's players never had performed for such a large, involved audience, never had come close to filling their 8,136-seat LaValle Stadium. Paar guessed the crowd at the previous week's NCAA first-round game - 4,262 - was the largest he'd known as a player.

But the combination of hosting a quarterfinal doubleheader, with a good slice of the lacrosse cult based on Long Island, and earning a berth in the quarters brought Stony Brook a major dose of enthusiastic backing. Though Virginia featured nine Long Island players on its roster (four of them - Ghitelman, Shamel and Rhamel Bratton and Connor English - filling key roles), Shamel Bratton said there was no mistaking the prevalent fan choice.

"Actually, I was expecting a little more love from the crowd," said Bratton, who often had played at LaValle during his Huntington High School days.

"Every time you made a play, you could feel the crowd erupt," said Stony Brook senior defenseman Steven Waldeck, who made the game's most dazzling play with a weaving 40-yard run through Virginia defenders capped by a spinning shot for the tying goal at 7-7. "It would give you energy to make the next play."

Stony Brook athletic director Jim Fiore, let down by the unrealized upset, was having trouble appreciating the captivating duel he witnessed, acknowledging only a pain in the gut.

But the Stony Brook lacrosse show had gone on - impressively so - for longer than could have reasonably been expected, with solid to exceptional play coming from all corners: McBride and fellow Canadians Kevin Crowley, Kyle Belton and Robbie Campbell; Long Island products Paar (Huntinton), Waldeck (MacArthur), Tom Compitello (Hauppauge), Timmy Trenkle (Commack) and Jared LeVerne (Syosset); plus face-off specialist Adam Rand (Niantic, Conn.), whose work on Sunday repeatedly triggered his team's offensive possessions.

"It's a tremendous feeling to be where we are," Sowell said. "For us to win 13 games, that's incredible. We don't want to be one and done. We have a pretty good team coming back. We feel good about our program. Obviously, we want to parlay this into recruiting, shaking down the alumni a little."

The season is over. The scoreboard is turned off. But, Sowell said, "It was so much fun. So much fun."