BY RICKY POLLITT
Salisbury University’s women’s lacrosse team is going back to the big show.
With a 12-5 victory over St. Mary’s College in the Capital Athletic Conference championship game, the Gulls clinched a spot into the NCAA tournament for the 14th straight season.
The win marked a perfect conference record for Salisbury, including the regular season and playoffs.
After failing to reach the national championship game in 2015 for the first time in four seasons, the Sea Gulls (16-2) are determined to get back to the big game and bring home the ultimate prize.
“It’s a great feeling,” Sea Gulls head coach Jim Nestor said. “Now it’s a one-and-done season, we can’t take anything for granted and we’ve got to continue to strive to get better.”
St. Mary’s (16-3) found the back of the net first, when senior midfielder Tori Poffenberger took a low shot on SU goalie Gianna Falcone giving the Seahawks the early lead.
Despite the early momentum for St. Mary’s, the Sea Gulls went on a 7-0 run, going into the half with a six-goal lead.
Junior attack Hannah Young netted two goals while senior attack Megan Wallenhorst followed up with three assists and a score going into the break.
“We’ve worked a lot on our offense,” Wallenhorst said. “We did a good job handling what we did at practice and taking it into the game, so I was proud of our team for doing that.”
Wallenhorst started the scoring off in the second with a free-position shot past Seahawks’ goalie Kayla Dunn to give SU the 8-1 lead.
St. Mary’s finally got back on the board in the second half with two more goals from Poffenberger and goals from midfielders Shelby Newman and Megan Cannon, but the Salisbury defense continued to shut down the weapons the Seahawks had.
Junior midfielder Gabbi Nieves had a hat trick on the day, putting her season total at 33, and put the icing on the cake for the Gulls.
As the final buzzer sounded, it was official – the Sea Gulls were champions.
With Wallenhorst leading the team with five points, and the defense only allowing five goals, the victory proved to be a well balanced attack from both sides of the ball.
Falcone tallied eight saves on the day, while the entire defensive unit caused 13 turnovers and held St. Mary’s to only two goals on seven free-position shots.
“The defense played really well. We had all of our slides there, we knew not to let them go one-on-one and we got a stick on almost every shot they took, so that made my job really easy,” Falcone said.
Salisbury’s championship win marks the 14th in the Nestor era. The last time the Gulls failed to win the conference tournament was Nestor’s first season in 2002.
After a loss to Hamilton College in the second round of the NCAA tournament last season, the team is determined to prove last year was a fluke, and they have what it takes to be the best in the country.
“We’ve got to keep improving. We can’t continue to do the same thing, and we’ve got to be smart on the offensive and defensive end, and then we should be good,” Nestor said.