By HALEY DICK & CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Gull Life Editor/Sports Editor
While her Sea Gull career may end on the final whistle of a game soon, Salisbury women’s lacrosse senior middie Gabbi Nieves will continue her collegiate career across the pond this summer alongside her teammate, junior goalkeeper Gianna Falcone.
After sifting through 7,600 candidates, the U.S. National Team selected the two Sea Gulls as part of their Division III team. They will trek across the Atlantic Ocean to play in Guildford, England as part of the ten-day 2017 Women’s Lacrosse World Cup Festival this summer.
The Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) welcomes in teams from 25 nations across the world to play in their tournament to be held at Surrey Sports Park. The Salisbury students are just two of 30 DIII athletes selected for the team.
“The feeling of being selected is indescribable. It will be about learning to play with different people and adjusting to different situations,” Falcone said, “and that’s kind of how it is here when we get new players coming in each season. You have to learn to mesh and work with people and cope with your environment.”
In contrast to Nieves, for Falcone, the opportunity is a pit stop this summer as she continues her solid Salisbury University career. The trusted hand inside the cage has received many honors over her time as a Sea Gull, rising from Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) Rookie of the Year in 2015 and building up to an Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches’ Association (IWLCA) Third Team All-American nomination a season ago.
The Florham Park, N.J. native has not let up a beat in the 2017 season, rallying for a 7.25 goals-against average and a 46.8 save percentage over her 15 starts. For Falcone, the experience garners a perfect chance to work on her craft and enjoy the moment.
“I am looking forward to travelling and experiencing this with one of my best friends, and just working and focusing on me and playing against other countries and teams and seeing a lot of different types of shots,” Falcone said.
Instead of a stop along the way, the selection is a capstone to a strong Sea Gull career for Nieves. The Centreville, Va. native has accumulated 90 goals and 21 assists to total 111 points over her career. As a complete player and middie, Nieves also has recorded 80 ground balls, 71 draw controls and 56 caused turnovers across her four years.
SU head coach Jim Nestor looks back fondly on Nieves’ career at Salisbury and her growth over four years.
“I love just seeing her grow from self-protocol to now helping lead the team to, hopefully, another CAC Championship, and just watching her mature over time,” coach Nestor said.
Over her four-year career, the Salisbury middie sees fond memories both at the very start and towards the end of her career
“My first year and our team winning a national championship and last year being named [IWLCA] First-Team All-American was something I didn’t see coming, and felt really great,” Nieves said.
Despite all the accolades and success on the field at Salisbury, the selection is a reminder of what athletics and sports are all about at their core for both players and their head coach. Nieves and Falcone spent three years together on the team as key players to the squad.
“I am just looking forward to being able to go and have fun playing lacrosse because that’s all we want to do,” Falcone said. “Sometimes you forget about that and you have to bring that back and I think it will be a really great opportunity to get to do that.”
The friendships cultivated from coming from a close-knit group is also what Nieves will miss most after she graduates.
“The friendships that I’ve made on and off the field…I feel like our team is especially close, so I will definitely take that with me when I leave SU,” Nieves said.
Hidden beneath this high accolade is the mission to spread the sport of lacrosse across seas to other nations. One hot-bed is Europe, specifically the United Kingdom, where the festival is set to take place.
Coach Nestor sets his players on their way, reminding them of the deeper importance and meaning behind their trip.
“[I hope they enjoy] being overseas and representing our university and the U.S. in that positive lacrosse way and just gaining the experience of how other cultures view lacrosse, especially women’s,” coach Nestor said.
As members of the national team, the two women’s lacrosse stars become ambassadors for the greater nation, but they have surely also become proud ambassadors of the Sea Gulls that fly through Sea Gull Stadium each spring.