By Chris Mackowiak
The Salisbury University men’s soccer team opened up their conference slate with a 3-0 win over Southern Virginia on Saturday. Through extensive offensive pressure and strong defense in the air, the Sea Gulls locked down the Knights despite an up-tempo effort from their fellow Capital Athletic Conference members.
Everything seemed to be going right for Salisbury (4-2-1, 1-0) in the first 15 minutes of the match. In the 11th minute of the affair, freshman midfielder Dolph Hegewisch continued the brilliant start to his career as a Sea Gull with a nearly perfect through-ball to split two defenders. The ball found the feet of junior forward Brooks Zentgraf who took it down the right side. With a powerful shot across the frame of goal, Zentgraf slotted the ball into the side netting to open up Salisbury’s score line with his second goal of the season.
“I just went right at them. Brooks was calling for it. It’s something that’s worked for us in the past, and Brooks was able to put it in the back of the net with his right foot,” Hegewisch said.
Despite a one-goal lead at the break, the first half was a much more physical battle than indicated by the stat sheet. By the end of the game, both teams were neck-in-neck with shots taken with Salisbury tallying 16 and SVU with 15. The physicality of the match was also apparent with five players awarded yellow cards.
Overall, it was an up-tempo battle with both teams racing back and forth across the field. Salisbury’s starting lineup featured senior defender Nathaniel Eiben and senior midfielder Tyler Andrus with significant time at the forward position. Both players became catalysts for offensive production by Salisbury as the game went on.
In the second half, the speed and depth of Salisbury’s attack was showcased with players like freshman forward Ryan Spadin, senior midfielder Kendrick Michel, and Hegewisch, who finished with a goal and an assist in the match.
Although the Sea Gulls held the lead, the team continued the offensive pressure when not in possession which reaped benefits alongside strong transition play.
In the 50th minute, a through-ball was placed past the SVU defense for Hegewisch. At the top of the box, SVU senior goalkeeper Keenan Carroll slid into the ball to keep it away from the SU freshman. However, his kick of the ball deflected off Hegewisch’s legs right into the net for a Salisbury goal.
While it was attributed as a Hegewisch goal, it was a testament to the defensive pressure Salisbury had been practicing all week.
“It was great. Obviously, there are a lot of times where it didn’t go so well as to be expected, but to get a goal off of exactly what we did on the field on Thursday is fantastic. I know the guys feel very good about it,” SU Head Coach Alex Hargrove said.
“We’ve been practicing that really hard, that press we’ve been working. For it to pay off and to actually get a goal out of it, it was pretty awesome,” Hegewisch said.
On the defensive side, Salisbury continued their stout approach. The SVU offense was active and effective early on, getting multiple balls into the box along with providing pressure around the 18. While the team took multiple shots at Salisbury goalkeeper Dan Brennan, most of these shots took place from 20 or more yards out and proved ineffective.
Due to the physicality of the match and yellow card accumulation, the Sea Gulls were forced to rotate players in and out of the back line to keep fresh. Offensive stalwarts freshman forward Tyler McElwee and freshman midfielder Brandon Zapata continued to pressure Salisbury with their quick attacks. However, they were met with a strong ability in the air alongside excellent defense on wings from the experienced veteran backline.
“We just wanted to come out strong today, get after them a little bit. We’ve been on a little bit of a rough break. We wanted to get back out on the board and get a ‘W’ today,” senior defender Kevin Miller said.
With the shutout, Brennan continued his goalless streak in net as a Sea Gull. The University of Louisville transfer has yet to let a goal in this season.
Salisbury capped things off by putting an additional goal on the board when freshman forward Matt Hawkins sent a cross into the box. SVU sophomore defender Nick Francis attempted to clear the ball so that it would not find the feet of SU’s defender Josh Lord at the forward position. However, Francis deflected the ball into his own net for an own goal in the 73rd minute.
The win to open up conference play proved a great moment for Salisbury as they found the net for three goals after previously only scoring four times over their last six matches. The Sea Gulls also broke a two game losing streak that featured two close road contests.
“It feels good. Obviously, there should have been a few extra goals in the back of the net. We’re never going to be satisfied with what we did today. We’ll move forward and try to build on that for Wednesday,” Coach Hargrove said.
Next up, the Sea Gulls will be preparing for a tough non-conference match with Catholic University on Wednesday before returning the Capital Athletic Conference action on Oct. 1 against Mary Washington.
“[This win] is a big confidence booster for the team going forward. We have a big game against Catholic on Wednesday, so we’re going to have to work again,” Hegewisch said.