By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Featured photo: The Sea Gulls and Avenging Angels battle for a ground ball. May 13. Emma Reider photo
With three national titles in the last decade, the Salisbury University women’s lacrosse team (19-1, 8-0 CAC) has seen perennial success recently. Those deep NCAA Tournament runs have been limited of late though with SU not entering the National Semifinals since 2014, the last time they won the national title.
A veteran group looks to change that pattern here in the 2018 postseason. The journey began in the Second Round this year as SU hosted USA South Champions Meredith College on Sunday in Sea Gull Stadium.
Meredith was coming off of their program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament victory on Saturday with a 20-9 win over the United States Merchant Marine Academy in the NCAA First Round.
Salisbury entered with eight days of rest under their belt following their 16th consecutive CAC Championship. On Sunday, the offensive front of the Sea Gulls showcased their talents on the tournament stage.
“I think we were really working as a team, a true offense together. We were all truly trying to get each other open. That’s how we got the score up,” SU junior attacker Gabrielle Mongno said.
Early on, Meredith’s top-two national scoring offense kept the Avenging Angels with the Sea Gulls. The two teams went back-and-forth scoring in the game.
With an early 6-2 lead on the board for SU, Meredith struck back with three-consecutive goals cutting the SU lead to 6-5 halfway through the first half. The Avenging Angels saw three goals from junior midfielder Holly Hite and two more from junior attacker Julie Capretti.
Those five goals were all Meredith saw in the first half. From there, Salisbury went on a game-defining 7-0 run to end the first half of play. Six different Sea Gulls scored on the run, spreading the load.
“I think overall we just kept moving the ball faster and that kept opening up people,” SU freshman attacker Emma Skoglund said. “We were just really looking for the easy ones and then we kept just putting it in the back of the net.”
Salisbury ended the first half dominating the game in terms of midfield play, winning the ground ball battle 12-1 and forcing 10 Meredith turnovers. The SU defense’s 11 caused turnovers in the game continued halting the Meredith play throughout.
“We were coming up with those loose ground balls which gave us those extra opportunities, and causing turnovers on the ride,” SU Head Coach Jim Nestor said. “I think that the number of goals that we scored and the number of opportunities had a lot to do with all over the field play.”
The Sea Gulls saw one of the Avenging Angels’ strengths as midfield play entering the game. Creating their 19.79 goals-per-game this season, the possession game is a specialty for Meredith.
Entering Sunday’s game, Meredith only gave up 12 turnovers-per-game while clearing at an 83 percent rate. SU forced 17 turnovers from the Avenging Angels alongside two missed clears.
“We were trying to take away one of their strengths,” Nestor said. “We were trying to make that next pass a little more obvious and have someone else handle the ball. We were very fortunate so that when they did make a mistake, we were there to go clean it up.”
Meredith did have the advantage on draw controls with a 19-13 edge in the game. Nestor praised Hite in the postgame press conference for her play all over the field. Hite entered the game with 150 draw controls on the season.
One Meredith star SU did limit was senior attacker Carlee Joseph who tallied a team-leading 108 points entering the game. Joseph only tallied one goal during the contest. Nestor attributes the slowdown in play in the first half to a switch in defense.
“We did change up the defense and went to a backer just to put a little more defense on the ball,” Nestor said. “Again, caused a couple turnovers which allowed us to get a little bit of a spark on offense.”
After SU’s double-digit lead at halftime, the margin never really decreased despite both teams going on separate runs in the second half. SU senior goalkeeper Gianna Falcone recorded eight saves and nine goals allowed before exiting the game early with a comfortable lead.
Meredith sophomore goalkeeper Haley Whitfield entered the cage for the final 35 minutes of the game, jolting the defense with her 10 saves in the game. Hite ended the game with six goals, leading her school in production.
On the offensive side, 10 different players tallied a point for Salisbury. Mongno and Skoglund both led the effort with five goals apiece, while SU senior attacker Lindsey Wagner recorded four points via one goal and three assists.
SU senior midfielder Allie Hynson recorded five draw controls, four ground balls and three caused turnovers. SU junior defender Martha Hutzell and Skoglund each also had two caused turnovers.
While SU received the 19-11 victory on Sunday, Nestor sees plenty to improve on with 11 goals allowed in the contest.
“We definitely need to shut things down a little bit more on the defensive end,” Nestor said. “Again, they’re a very strong offense. I thought we could have probably handled them a little bit lower. Offensively, we need to just keep rolling and working as a group.”
SU had 22 of their 34 shots as shots-on-goal. The Sea Gulls will look to continue their momentum in the NCAA Regional Semifinals on Saturday vs. Denison University. Time and location are still to be determined.