By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
The last week of the regular season was arguably the toughest for the Salisbury University women’s lacrosse team. The Sea Gulls faced then-No. 7 York (Pa.) College Spartans and then the No. 1 TCNJ Lions. Both games ended with Salisbury on the wrong end of the stick, 0-2 on the week.
With an 11-5 overall record including 2-5 against ranked opponents entering Saturday, the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) Semifinals offered Salisbury a chance to boost their resume and confidence.
The thirteenth-ranked Sea Gulls (12-5, 8-1 CAC) took the chance by storm, defeating the No. 14 Mary Washington Eagles 11-5. The win advances Salisbury into the CAC Championship game next Saturday when the team will travel to face the fifth-ranked Spartans.
“If we didn’t come out today with a victory, I didn’t think we’d be going postseason. So, that was a big factor behind the scenes. We just wanted to make that we came out and played hard and well,” SU head coach Jim Nestor said.
Within the first two minutes, Mary Washington (14-5, 7-3 CAC) was quick to open the scoring on the stick of senior middie Emily Mott, her eighteenth goal of the season. But then it was the Sea Gulls who followed their coach’s words of playing hard right out of the gate.
The next four minutes saw a 3-0 run from the Sea Gull offense, featuring goals from attackers junior Emma Wall, sophomore Lindsey Wagner and sophomore Gabrielle Mongno. The offensive start was a difference from recent contests that displayed slow starts for Salisbury.
“I think we were just trying to work better as a team, be more aggressive right at the first whistle. We’ve had a lot of trouble with that this season: lacking in the first half and then having to comeback against teams,” junior attacker Dana King said, after leading her team with five points.
King scored her first two of three goals in the next sequence of action. Following a UMW goal from sophomore attacker Julia Albert to make it 3-2 eight minutes in, the Sea Gulls went on another run. This time 4-0 over the course of 16 minutes.
Last in the CAC in free-position shot percentage, Salisbury found early success at the eight-meter fan, going 2-for-4 from free-position in just the first half. The Sea Gulls also doubled UMW’s shot count 25 to 12 over the course of the contest.
After Wall tacked on another SU goal with 66 seconds before the break, Salisbury went into the locker room up 8-3 and never looked back. The second half featured a slow pace ideal for smothering time off the clock in which SU outscored the Eagles 3-2.
“This season honestly kind of started out slow, especially for me, but after we’ve been working together, figuring out [team chemistry], we’ve finally gotten it all put together,” sophomore defender Martha Hutzell said.
Hutzell has slowly appeared on the field with more and more playing time as the season has gone on. Against UMW, the Ellicott City, Md. native was also instrumental in many of Salisbury’s 15 successful clears, showcasing her speed to dash by opponents.
“I just think to myself, ‘I want the ball and I want our attack to have the ball,’ because that’s less time that it’s on our defense, less time there’s chance that there’s a goal scored against us,” Hutzell said, recording three ground balls and two caused turnovers on Saturday.
An area of concern for SU is the battle at the draw control. The team is 1-5 this season when tallying six or fewer draws. On Saturday, there was no need for worry as Salisbury rallied to win 12 of the 18 total in the game.
“It was one of our better showings at draw control. I was very very pleased with that. Again, it was just people on the outside fighting for those ground balls. That’s the big part: ‘how hungry are you for that ball?’” coach Nestor said.
The 11-5 win was a large step from the 9-7 SU road victory in the previous match-up this season. The win moves Salisbury to 3-5 against ranked opponents this season with another Top-15 match-up set in the conference title game next Saturday.
The game will feature the top two seeds in the CAC. In an earlier game this season at York (Pa.), the Spartans took down the Sea Gulls 10-6. A conference title would solidify the Sea Gulls in the NCAA Tournament, but for now the confidence built from this CAC Semifinal win will fortify a strong foundation for the contest.
“[This win] feels good. It’s definitely a lot of momentum, and we want to keep it rolling going into NCAA’s,” King said.