By MARK DAVIS
After strong performances throughout the 2016 postseason, the Salisbury women’s lacrosse team fell short in the NCAA Regional Final. The Sea Gulls finished at 18-3, but regardless of the tough loss to Franklin & Marshall, they are prepared to get the ball rolling in their 2017 campaign.
Salisbury lost seniors Megan Wallenhorst, Samantha Duranti and Chelsea Weinstein, who helped the Sea Gulls to two national championships and an overall record of 78-8 with their time spent at Salisbury. The Sea Gulls now turn to a few newcomers to help further the success of the team in hopes that they can get back to the big stage.
“We have a lot of youth on the sideline that we are trying to help gain experience so we can have a lot more depth. On the defense, I think we’ve brought a nice group in. Anna Wehland is one that has really stepped up as well, Kendall Bannan has done a nice job also defensively for us,” SU head coach Jim Nestor said.
“On the attack, I would say from a truly new, not returning-wise, but a truly new, Gianna Demato has done very well. Emily McQuay has been doing a really nice job recently with how she’s been working as a midfielder for us.”
Some of the veterans on the team are also noticing a positive change in the team this year with the help of the newcomers for this upcoming season.
“We have a lot of freshman, so we’re kind of just getting them integrated into the team and I think they already are adjusting really well, which is just going to benefit us for this year and for future years,” junior goalie Gianna Falcone said.
Falcone tallied a 5.89 goals-against-average, one of the top averages in the country, and recorded 113 saves last season. She earned a couple awards, as well, including IWLCA First-Team All-Region honors, First-Team All-CAC recognition, IWLCA Third-Team All-American selection and was named as a 2017 IWLCA Player of The Year nominee.
With these multiple new installments to the roster, coach Nestor wants to change the team’s balance up a bit and focus more on building an all-around based team.
“Last year I think we played really well. We did some really nice things but at the very end we need to be a little more well-balanced on that offense, so that’s something we’ve been trying to focus on this year…[we’re] really trying to work on everyone having a hand in the offense, not just maybe one or two players,” Nestor said.
Nestor’s ultimate goal is to get back to the Final Four, which SU has not been a stranger to recently. In his fifteenth season at Salisbury, he has a total of 14 consecutive NCAA appearances and seven National Championship appearances, alongside three National Championships.
The SU head coach believes that the offense is still trying to get a feel for each other to go up against other defenses.
“With facing certain defenses we have to learn how to capitalize on their weaknesses,” Nestor said.
Recently, coach Nestor preaches that understanding your opponent well enough to execute against their weaknesses is how they will win games.
The Sea Gulls opened the regular season against Stevenson University where they delivered a 19-6 victory. All-around play from the Sea Gulls earned them the victory and helped get rid of the start-of-the-season jitters.
“I think our team chemistry is really great this year and I think that it’s going to help us play this year as a unit on the field,” senior defender Kayla Miller said.
Miller is a returning senior defender for the Gulls. She started in every game last season and helped the defense by recording the third-most groundballs on the team.
It is too early to tell just who this year’s team is. Salisbury’s upcoming schedule is nothing but challenging, facing seven teams in the IWLCA top-20 and four in the top-10.
“I think Coach [Nestor] is just as frustrated as we are that we haven’t made it to the final four in the past two years. We’re all going to put in that extra effort and that extra time to get there,” Falcone said.
The Sea Gulls continue their 2017 campaign with their first Capital Athletic Conference match-up at Marymount University (Va.) on Wednesday, Mar. 1.