Sue Ryan has been the head coach of the women’s program at Stony Brook since 1985. She was given the job on a temporary basis, and evidently someone forgot to pull the plug on her because nearly three decades later the Northport, N.Y. native has quietly built one of the most stable programs in the country.
“The overall goal is always the same,” Ryan said. “The overall goal is always to be in the NCAA tournament and win in the NCAA tournament, and do well enough where you continue playing and winning.”
The irony of those remarks is that Ryan made them in mid-October before the Seawolves embarked on a historic run through the America East tournament that culminated with a 1-0 win over Hartford that earned them the conference title and a trip to the NCAAs. It is the first time doing either since making the jump to Division I more than a decade ago.
“We couldn’t be more excited to represent the America East in the NCAA Tournament going forward,” Ryan said after junior Larissa Nysch’s goal stood up as the game-winner in the final match. A meeting with Maryland looms this weekend.
A trip to the NCAAs was far away when Ryan was hired—temporarily—twenty-seven years ago.
“I was six months older than my graduating seniors,” she said. “I did not even have a Masters degree which at the time was almost a partial requirement.”
Buoyed by a state championship in her first season—no NCAAs for Stony Brook back then—Ryan held on and eventually earned her Masters by taking night classes for three years.
“I received tenure after seven years and then just stayed with the program through its evolution and growth since.”
As the Stony Brook sports programs have grown so has the school. Eastern Long Island is hardly a destination location for graduating high school seniors, but Stony Brook is now a renowned medical school and has grown in profile.
“I might as well be at a completely different university. Where we’re standing,” Ryan said following a training session at 8,300 seat LaValle Stadium, “was a rec field. Three-quarters of the sports complex was not there. Three-quarters of every building that you see were not here. So it was an entirely different experience. The teams that we played against, the way we played, the way we traveled, everything that we did was different. The players competed just as hard but it was just an entirely different ballgame. Now we’re at an entirely different level both academically and athletically.”
As Stony Brook has improved so have the powerhouse schools in the country. A middle to lower-echelon school can recruit for the stars but with that comes the risk of losing out on the types of players that tend to eye your team.
“I think sometimes the players that want to come here and the players that we want are two different groups of people,” Ryan acknowledged. “But I think you’re talking about three things. People who are talented athletes and soccer players, people who are of good character, and people who are good students. If you can get all three of those then that’s a home run.
“That’s the ultimate goal. Can you bring in student athletes who want an academic priority and have an unbelievable, undying passion for the game of soccer? I think those two together are a really important part of our program.”
Stony Brook draws plenty of local students but the 2012 roster includes players from as far away as Colorado. And Ryan cautions that some players that live nearby consider Stony Brook a non-starter just because they prefer to go away for college.
Ally Ramos grew up a stone’s throw from campus but wound up at Vermont. She told Equalizer, “I was going to go away for college.”
Sa’sha Kershaw, the Most Outstanding Player of the America East tournament, came up from the Baltimore area after being tipped off to Ryan by a friend.
“I really enjoyed it,” Kershaw said of her time at Stony Brook even though it has yet to come to an end. “I feel like I’ve grown as a player and as a person. Coach is like a teaching person not just a soccer coach. She’s more about teaching you to do things outside school. I think it has definitely helped me for things I’m going to do outside of here.”
One of the questions recruits tend to ask is whether the coach plans to be at the school for the entire four year commitment. Anyone who follows college sports knows this is never a given. Sue Ryan is as close as anyone to being an ironclad exception. Even if she was supposed to be the head coach of a small Division III on a temporary basis.
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