By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
While in a tense battle for the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) crown, little draws away from the mission at hand—that is, other than Senior Day. On Saturday, the No. 13 Salisbury women’s lacrosse team celebrated the collegiate careers of seven Sea Gulls.
Those graduating in 2017 are defender Kayla Miller, defender Kacy Koolage, middie Gabbi Nieves, attacker Hannah Young, defender Kieran Kelleher, attacker Ariana Maxwell and defender Marcy Lenz.
Most of the players wore the maroon and gold for four seasons, dating back to the 2014 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) National Championship. This senior class has a 66-11 overall record, including three CAC Championships.
“Seeing them grow through their years and everything they’ve been a part of with this program and what they’ve meant to this program and all the hard work they put in, it’s just really nice to have this day to celebrate it,” SU head coach Jim Nestor said.
“We’re definitely really close with each other. I think we all play really well together, too, so we know we have the potential this year. We are just a really strong group I think,” Miller said.
Emotions played a large part in their contest Saturday as Salisbury (11-3, 7-0 CAC) performed dominantly on both sides of the field. However, a slow start plagued the Sea Gulls in the early going, missing passes in key areas of the eight-meter fan.
It was Frostburg State (6-8, 3-3 CAC) that struck first when senior middie Emani Byrd took possession across the field to complete a clear. Byrd completed her run on transition with a goal past SU junior goalkeeper Gianna Falcone.
This moment electrified the Sea Gull attack. Within one minute of the Frostburg State goal, Maxwell found the back of the cage on a pass from junior attacker Dana King. Two-straight Nieves goals followed the one from Maxwell over the course of the next four minutes.
From there, Salisbury completed an 8-0 run up until Frostburg State scored again later on in the first half. Part of the run was a Nieves’ hat trick within the first 16 minutes of the game. The Centreville, Va. native finished with a team-leading four goals.
“I feel like I was strong with my dodges, and I just saw a lot of open lanes,” Nieves said, who also tallied seven ground balls in the game. “Just the excitement of Senior Day—I want to play really well.”
Two more goals from each side brought a 10-3 SU lead into the break. Much of the same continued after the intermission for the Sea Gulls as Salisbury opened the second half with a 5-0 run.
Capping the second run was a goal from one of the senior defenders: Miller. The First Team All-CAC player flew by on the transition, scooped up a ground ball and converted it for a goal. That goal was Miller’s first career goal as a Sea Gull, coming on her Senior Day.
“I just saw the opportunity. There was a ground ball so I came up with it and just kind of went with it. I took my chances,” Miller said.
Joining in on the offensive effort was King, finishing with a team-leading six points, including two goals and four assists. Junior attacker Kristen Murphy tallied three points off of one goal and two assists.
The offensive runs led to the 19-5 victory, continuing the undefeated CAC regular season for the Gulls as they head into their final CAC game Wednesday.
This week in practice, a big emphasis for coach Nestor was defensive efficiency after the SU defense gave up 12 goals in a shootout road win vs. Christopher Newport on Wednesday. Salisbury got back to what they do best Saturday—halting opposing offenses.
“We just wanted to be a little more aggressive, not sitting back on our heels as much, be able to step out and cause turnovers,” coach Nestor said.
Across the board, the Sea Gulls performed well on the defensive side, forcing 18 Frostburg turnovers. The Bobcats also were limited to one goal on seven free-position shots and only clearing on eight of 13 chances. Playing physically, Salisbury forced 36 groundballs, well above their average of 14.7 per game this season.
Two performances that made for an interesting battle were inside of each of the cages. FSU senior goalkeeper Dylan Teitelbaum was stout with 19 saves on the 46 shots that Salisbury threw at her. On the other side, Falcone made three key saves to hold back Frostburg in the earlier going.
With the SU defense clicking, Salisbury now moves into one of their toughest stretches of 2017 when they will face two ranked opponents in four days. On Wednesday, the Gulls will travel to No. 7 York College of Pennsylvania in what could be the game that decides which team will hold the No. 1 seed and home field advantage in the CAC Tournament.
To end out the regular season, Salisbury will host No. 2 TCNJ in a resume-boosting game. The week will provide the team with a barometer as they head into the conference playoffs.
“We have to make sure we’re taking our possessions, capitalizing on our shots and, defensively, we have to be more supportive with our second and third slides,” coach Nestor said.