BY BRANDON STARK
Featured photo: SU midfielder Arielle Johnston drives down the field against the University of Mary Washington. Brendan Link photo
In winning its 21st CAC championship, the sixth-ranked Salisbury University field hockey team punched its ticket into the NCAA tournament. Its resume during the regular season of 16-2 (5-0 CAC) was enough for the NCAA to allow the Sea Gulls to host a regional this weekend.
That regional will consist of games within the NCAA Second Round and Third Round. After only losing to two top-five teams in The College of New Jersey and Messiah College this season, SU received a bye into the second round, in which its first game of the NCAA tournament will come on Saturday.
The Sea Gulls will face No. 15 Washington & Jefferson College at 11 a.m. The Presidents come into the tournament as champions of the Empire 8 Conference this season, finishing the regular season at a record of 17-1 (8-0 Empire 8).
The Washington, Pa. institution enters Sea Gull Stadium on Saturday on a four-game winning streak, including defeating St. John Fisher College (15-5, 7-1 E8) in its conference championship 1-0. The Presidents’ only loss this season came against Juniata College, but that sole loss sparked some of the best defense out of the team.
Since the loss to the Eagles, W&J has not allowed a goal against themselves. Overall this season, the Presidents have recorded 15 shutouts. The Presidents and Sea Gulls do share one common opponent in Frostburg State University, with both teams taking down the Bobcats handedly 6-0.
While the Sea Gulls do support a top defense, the key for their success might be in creating offensive chances and results. Salisbury has not lost a game this year in which it has scored at least two goals.
On the defensive side, SU has a 1-2 record in games in which it allowed more than one goal.
In the other NCAA Second Round battle in Sea Gull Stadium, the fourth-ranked Tufts University Jumbos (16-2, 9-1 NESCAC) will face the unranked Smith College Pioneers (15-7, 5-3 NEWMAC). The match is slated to start at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
The Jumbos enter as the runner-up in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, losing to second-ranked Middlebury College (17-1) in the conference championship. The Middlebury Panthers are the only team to defeat Tufts this year, once during the regular season and once again in the postseason.
Like Salisbury, Tufts received first round bye in the NCAA tournament and will face Smith College, which upset No. 10 Montclair State 1-0 in the NCAA First Round on Wednesday. The winner of each matchup on Saturday will meet for the NCAA Third Round on Sunday.
Smith College won the 2018 New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference Championship by defeating Massachusetts Institute of Technology (11-8) in overtime 2-1. Including their three NEWMAC playoff games, the Pioneers come into this weekend’s game against Tufts on a six-game win streak.
The Pioneers could be a dark horse of this tournament and cannot be taken lightly. After already upsetting one top 10 team in the NCAA First Round, Smith will need to do it twice more to advance to the NCAA semifinals.
The Pioneers have not won a game this year when allowing their opponent to score twice on them. Smith also has only lost one game this year when it has scored at least two goals, so holding the Pioneers to a goal or less will be a key for Salisbury.
Regardless of Salisbury’s opponent(s) this weekend, Sea Gull Stadium will be full of playoff field hockey action all weekend. Salisbury’s road to the NCAA National Semifinals begins Saturday morning at 11 a.m. as it rides its 10-game win streak into its game against No. 15 W&J.
Smith and Tufts will battle for the other spot in the NCAA Third Round at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The regional final game is set for Sunday, with the time of the game still to be determined.
The winner of Sunday’s game will advance to the NCAA semifinals next weekend in Manheim, Pa.