By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Featured photo: SU midfielder Zach Pompea takes a shot vs. Kenyon College. March 7. Emma Reider photo
Last season saw the York College of Pennsylvania and Salisbury University lead the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) in the race to lacrosse supremacy. The two schools met in both the men’s lacrosse and women’s lacrosse conference championships with Salisbury taking both crowns.
In 2018, the same tale might be told. Either way, the CAC schedule starts off with two heavy weight fights as the two schools meet up for their annual regular season battles in both women’s and men’s lacrosse once again.
MLAX: No. 7 Salisbury at No. 2 York (Pa.) – 1 p.m.
Salisbury’s last home loss in Sea Gull Stadium came at the hands of the Spartans in the 2016 CAC Championship. The No. 12 Spartans came in as an overwhelming underdog, but they left as winners against the top-ranked team in NCAA Division III.
That road victory propelled York (7-1) into the national discussion, where they have sat for these last two seasons. Now with SU (5-2) hitting some rough patches early on this season, the Spartans have a chance to cement their top-two ranking and their name in the national title discussion.
For Salisbury, the Sea Gulls have been here before. Their veteran defense has kept them in games here in 2018. The offense is the question mark at this point. If junior midfielder Corey Gwin and senior midfielder Garrett Reynolds are shadowed well by the opposing defense, Salisbury could be in trouble in the CAC opener.
The two midfielders are by far the points leaders on the team, combining for 53 this season. Reynolds has three games with over five goals this season. Gwin has recorded a six-goal game and is also coming off a four-goal performance in the War on the Shore on Saturday.
An issue for the Salisbury offense has been accuracy overall, falling below 21 percent shooting in their last two games. Also, the team has not capitalized on extra-man opportunities lately, felling below 30 percent conversion over the last four goals.
Their clearing (90.6 percent) and ride (72.5 percent) have been a key to success this season. After tallying three games with 19 turnovers, the Sea Gulls got that number down to 15 and 11 respectively in their last two games.
Back-to-back CAC Defensive Player of the Week, sophomore goalie Brandon Warren has excelled in his first three career starts in the maroon and gold, possessing a 62.5 save percentage. After averaging 7.5 caused turnovers over their losing streak, SU’s defense returned to its aggressive play, averaging 12 CT over their last three.
York has risen quickly through the rankings this season, especially with their 20-7 win at Stevenson University on Saturday. Their only blemish was a two-goal home loss to top-10 Gettysburg College a few weeks ago.
While SU struggled with returning talent on the offensive end, that is the Spartans’ specialty. Averaging 14.63 goals-per-game, York boasts a lethal and deep attacking group. Their three-junior attacking line and veteran midfield offer a tough obstacle for opponents.
Attackmen Thomas Pfeiffer and Brendan McGrath lead the way in that group. Both players have over 23 goals on the season, but Pfeiffer leads the team in points due to his 20 assists so far.
The defensive side of the ball is nearly just as deep, allowing only 6.38 goals-per-game. Senior defenseman Joey Fiorino returned to lead the group, recording 14 ground balls and 11 caused turnovers so far this season.
Inside the cage for the Spartans is a familiar face in senior Landry Marshall. Marshall has started in all games recording a 5.67 GAA, 45 saves and a 51.1 save percentage.
The match-up offers York a chance at maybe their best win of 2018 to this point. For Salisbury, it offers an opportunity to prove the doubters wrong as they look to enter the national title discussion again after two early losses.
WLAX: No. 5 York (Pa.) at No. 3 Salisbury – 1 p.m.
In a season with rules changes on the offensive end in NCAA DIII, Salisbury’s veteran offense was never fazed, averaging 12.86 goals-per-game through seven games. The Sea Gulls are undefeated at 7-0 entering CAC-play with three ranked victories.
The CAC is certainly deep in women’s lacrosse this season with three teams in the IWLCA top-10 including these two teams alongside the University of Mary Washington. York’s place in the picture is no surprise after the Spartans owned the title of regular season conference champions in 2017, toppling SU’s 108-game conference winning streak.
However, Salisbury avenged that regular season loss in the CAC Championship against the Spartans. With UMW threatening too, this game is a chance for SU or York to take a brief lead towards home-field advantage in the conference playoffs.
For the Sea Gulls, their success has come overall by taking care of the ball and opportunities. Salisbury averages a conference-best 13 turnovers-per-game. With their possession, SU has capitalized.
While SU does not put up huge goal totals, they are consistent and keep a sharp margin with their opponents. Senior attacker Dana King has propelled the deep offense, accumulating 23 goals and 28 points this season. King is also a perfect 7-for-7 on free-position shots in 2018.
Depth in the cage has also aided the undefeated effort this season. Starting in all games, senior Gianna Falcone has tallied 41 saves and a 50.6 save percentage. In the defense that allows 8.39 goals-per-game, the defensive midfield is a key force.
The top-two Sea Gulls in caused turnovers are senior Allie Hynson and junior Martha Hutzell who combine for 16 this season. The two have also been the main force in the SU possession battle overall, combining for 41 draw controls.
The Spartans are 4-1 at this point in the season. York was due to play another top-team in the Gettysburg Bullets on Wednesday, but because of the wintry weather, that game was postponed.
Now York has a week of rest ahead of this conference clash. Two of the Spartans’ five games have gone to overtime, losing one of those 12-11 to Messiah.
Big wins on their resume include handing losses to No. 4 Trinity (Conn.) and No. 8 Franklin & Marshall. However, the Spartans’ toughest test yet may just be the Sea Gulls.
Aiding their similar offensive success to SU is an impressive 97 percent clearing mark so far. The Spartans also lead the CAC in creating opportunities by averaging 36 shots-per-game.
In comparison to Salisbury’s veteran attack, the York offense is led by two sophomores in Meghan Fox and Devin Hursey. The two have combined for 42 points so far this season.
Giving up 7.89 goals-per-game, the York defense also has a senior in the cage in the form of Charlotte Wright. Wright has a 43.5 save percentage in 2018.
Key to their possession battle is junior defender Nicole Clauter. Clauter leads the team with 31 draw controls alongside her 10 caused turnovers.
For two teams that made their respective NCAA Regional Finals in 2017, offensive opportunities and turnovers were the deciding factors in their two games last season. In their 10-6 regular season victory, York had 11 more shots than SU. In the CAC Championship, the shot totals were nearly even, but York gave up the ball 12 times.