BY CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Not much changes in the Salisbury field hockey program, but that is not a bad thing. The team was back at the National Semifinals last season, competing for their first national title since 2009.
While they did come up two wins short of that coveted prize, SU made immense progress toward that top goal.
One thing that does change in 2017: the loss of a talented senior class. Salisbury lost six seniors, all consistent starters. Now, preseason has had a next-player-up mentality as SU looks to replicate their 2016 success.
“I think preseason has gone really well. We’ve been working really hard with a great group. We’ve got really good team chemistry, and they’re just really fun to coach,” SU head coach Dawn Chamberlin.
For younger players on the squad, lessons learned from this senior class were not solely on-the-field.
“From the seniors, I learned how important it is to keep everyone included and feeling like they’re part of the team. I know that’s not necessarily on-the-field, but that translates on the field. They really emphasized that everyone was included, had a place and a ride somewhere. That’s really important,” sophomore back Arielle Johnston said, who was a consistent starter in her freshman season.
The loss of the senior class not only affects one sector of the team, but wide array of sections. On both offense and defense, SU field hockey will be a bit younger this season.
One thing for sure is that the talent pool is still available and ready to go.
After both scoring at least 15 goals during their senior campaigns, Becca Rinaca and Abbey Shobe graduated. The torch now is passed on to new, but familiar faces on the squad.
One of those familiar faces is senior forward Natalie Wilkinson who scored 13 goals and tallied six assists in 2016. She will be looked to for much production this season.
Outside of Wilkinson, in the fold for starting time is sophomore forwards Rachel Domanico, Tara Daddio and junior forward Emily Lemanski.
“I think we have a lot of returners that have started and have been playing a lot. That’s definitely nice to have. We do have a few new people though that can fit into the roles we lost last year,” Wilkinson said.
They were all names that immediately came to the mind of Chamberlin. For those on the offensive end, it will be a quick learning curve.
“They’ve got to be a quick study. They have to be ready to go. They’re gonna be tested, and we have to be able to overcome adversity,” Chamberlin said.
Part of that quick learning curve is one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country, before Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) play hits. After starting the season 2-0, the Sea Gulls will also face 2016 National Champions Messiah, Colonial States Athletic Conference Champions Cabrini and then New Jersey Athletic Conference Champions TCNJ.
While it is a tough road, the offense started it well averaging four goals-per-game over a two match stretch at the annual Misericordia Tournament. Domanico was the stand out in the opening weekend with three goals over the stretch. Five other Sea Gulls made their mark on the scoreboard.
Potent losses also came on the defensive front. A core that posted a goals-against average of 0.55 in 2016. The team graduated two key players on the defensive line in Jessie Todd and Annah Brittingham who both started at least 19 games last season.
Two young players do return to the defense after seeing a majority of time on the field, starting 20 times as freshmen. Those players are Johnston and sophomore defender Jillian Hughes who are both back as veterans in just their sophomore years.
Hughes and Johnston both started this weekend and are forecasted to be key pieces once again in 2017. Senior goalie Tressie Windsor sees the imprint the former-seniors left behind on the young players.
“Fortunately for us and the younger girls on defense, they got to watch the [seniors] on defense last year and got to do all the same drills with them. They quickly picked up what [the seniors] were putting down last season,” Windsor said.
Johnston also noted the seniors’ tremendous work ethic and their positive energy. She says those are two things she hopes to replicate this season.
Two more names to watch on the defensive side of the ball after their two starts this weekend are junior Emma Vicchio and Lindsey Elgin.
Despite many new starters on the team, most of them have been with the squad and worked their way up to their starting position. This has allowed the same culture and values to remain in the program. Windsor and players say that the chemistry and passion of the team are what took them all the way to the National Semifinals in Gevena, N.Y. last fall.
“That took us farther than any of us could have imagined, and [we want to] put that same passion and enthusiasm behind every practice, making sure there’s no slip-ups,” Windsor said.
SU field hockey will next play in the friendly confines of Sea Gull Stadium against Stevenson University this Wednesday night.