By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Featured photo: SU defender Jillian Hughes passes the ball vs. Messiah College last season. Joey Gardner photo for SU Athletics
Losing only a few seniors from last season’s squad, Salisbury University field hockey (4-1) returns a more experienced squad in the 2018 campaign. On the defensive side of the ball, a notable stalwart and leader has departed from the field of play.
2017 CAC Player of the Year and SU three-year starting goalie Tressie Windsor now moves over to the sidelines as an assistant coach for SU head coach Dawn Chamberlin and the Sea Gulls. Windsor was a familiar face in the goal for the Sea Gulls, totaling 54 starts and a 0.73 GAA over her Salisbury career.
Like with the many positions for Salisbury, the Sea Gulls are deep in talent and had young goalies waiting in the wings. Eastern Shore product Domanique Farrace of Pocomoke City, Md. takes over the top spot in goal for the 2018 season.
Preparing for the upcoming season, Farrace says that working with Windsor has been a big benefit to her and the other goalies’ games.
“She’s been awesome, and we’ve done a lot of drills, even more than last year,” Farrace said. “Especially when she isn’t here, other assistant coaches have been helping a lot.”
“It was a great experience [working behind Windsor as a freshman]. She was definitely a great leader to learn from, and she definitely put me where I needed to be in order to be in the goal for next season.”
The sophomore has started the last four games for the Sea Gulls, making 13 saves and allowing three goals. One of those three match-ups included second-ranked Messiah College, as the Salisbury defense braved an onslaught of chances and Farrace made seven of her saves.
Veteran junior defender Jillian Hughes has been impressed by the play of Farrace, considering also the pressure of potentially replacing a veteran like Windsor.
“Ever since Tressie graduated last season, Dom knew that she had to step up into that role. She had big shoes to fill, and I really think she’s done amazing with it,” Hughes said.
Already, the Sea Gulls have shown depth in the cage for the upcoming season. In the season-opener, sophomore goalie Caitlin Harris got the start with Farrace unavailable to play, working a shutout against Dickinson.
“I think she did fantastic,” Hughes said. “She came out, hadn’t started a game yet, and she looked like she has been starting here the whole time she’s been here. She wasn’t nervous and really stepped up for us.”
Farrace took over the goal as part of the SU defense as a sophomore, the same time that Windsor won the role for Salisbury. In front of Farrace, the rest of the SU defense has been growing over the past season. Now, as juniors, the SU backline is an experienced unit to protect shots from reaching Farrace.
At the forefront of the unit is junior Jillian Hughes once again. The two-time All-CAC First Team member returns with the unit that posted a 0.79 GAA in 2017. So far, the Sea Gulls have allowed three goals through five games, including three shutouts.
“I think we came out pretty strong,” Hughes said. “Working as a defensive unit, we’ve been trying really hard to use transfers with the ball, going from the left side to the right side or [vice versa]. I think we’ve been doing really well with that to open up the field.”
Farrace says that Hughes brings great leadership and energy to the field. The other juniors in the starting defensive unit include Sarah Jackson and Lindsey Elgin. A 2017 All-CAC First Teamer, Elgin started in 16 games last season for Salisbury.
Jackson believes that the team and unit continue to get better with every game on the field together. Last season, the Forest Hill, Md. native missed a large portion of the season, recording only seven appearances and four starts. While she was out, Jackson used the opportunity to aid in coaching an up-and-coming freshman.
“Last season, it was definitely hard being on the sideline, but I was coaching [Camryn Dennis], who was new to the program,” Jackson said.
“I was kind of teaching her how to play defense because it’s definitely different coming from high school. It’s a completely different thing playing for Salisbury field hockey than what we were used to playing. It was trying to help her transition into the role.”
The now-sophomore Dennis saw an immediate impact as a freshman, totaling five goals in 15 appearances and 12 starts. With her return alongside the three other junior defenders, it makes for a deep and experienced unit in front of Farrace and Harris in 2018.
While eyes are focused on these players for their defensive prowess, Hughes says that the entire team can be attributed to the early successful start in their first few games.
“[Coach Chamberlin] always says that the forwards are the first line of defense, so whether it’s them getting back on defense, the [midfielders] working hard to get it back up the field, or if the ball gets all the way back to the defense, just working to get it back on offense,” Hughes said.
Alongside the defense is a fairly deep offensive unit, which is averaging 3.2 goals per game to start the season. The offense did lose some talent on that end of the field, but Hughes says that the production has not lost a beat.
“I think this year, just watching the offense, we’re really starting to click,” Hughes said. “The passes that I’ve seen this year are, if anything, just as good or better than last year. Just seeing the fact that they’re all walking together, just finishing on opportunities and scoring, it feels really good.”
After being shut out on the road at Messiah, the Sea Gulls had their first real taste of a top contender. The Sea Gulls finished the end of their 2017 campaign with back-to-back losses in the CAC championship and then in the NCAA second round.
Salisbury will be looking for greener pastures in the new season as they move forward with a seasoned team after losing only a few seniors from last year’s squad. It will take a team effort to conquer the CAC once again as defending champions Christopher Newport return another potent squad.
The Sea Gulls will begin conference play on Oct. 6, hosting Frostburg State University. Before then, a tough non-conference schedule will test Salisbury and their new goalies at the back.
“Everyone is playing offense and defense everywhere on the field. Everyone is just working together, recovery, getting back, communicating with each other,” Jackson said.