By BRANDON STARK
Featured photo: SU junior forward Lexi Butler protects the ball. Nov. 10. Marshall Haas photo
The No. 6 Salisbury University field hockey team began its NCAA tournament journey on Saturday hosting the No. 15 Washington & Jefferson Presidents. The game was poised to be a defensive one with both the CAC-champion Sea Gulls and Empire 8-champion Presidents recording double-digit shutouts this year (15 for W&J; 10 for SU).
Salisbury came into this game on a 10-game win streak, including receiving a first round bye in the NCAA tournament. After a 3-0 victory over Rhodes College in the first round, W&J came in with a four-game win streak. With their 15 shutouts and five goals allowed all season, the Presidents came in with the best defense in NCAA Division III, led by sophomore goalie Rena Israel.
“[Our team is] super tight on and off the field. I think because of [our close bound], we have so much trust in each other,” Israel said. “Even if the ball goes through one defender, there is going to be somebody backing her up, there’s always going to be someone next to her, and that eliminates half the shots [against me] that could have happened.”
Despite being a generally defensive battle as expected, the Sea Gulls had the edge on offense, outshooting W&J 9-0 in the first half. The Sea Gulls also had nine first-half penalty corners, while the Presidents had none.
Despite Salisbury’s many offensive chances, SU came up empty in the first half with the game scoreless at halftime.
“It was definitely frustrating during the first half, but we had to keep positive and keep on it and keep the pressure up in the circle and keep shooting, because at the end of the day, one of them will land,” SU junior forward Tara Daddio said.
The second half was more fast-paced, with more shared possession than the first half. The Presidents came out strong on offense, finally getting their first shot and penalty corner of the game.
“We started the first half with an extra back, so we played five back instead of four back,” W&J head field hockey coach Jomara Coglan said. “We switched it at halftime to go back to our original setup with four back. I think [switching to four back from five back] helped us be a little more offensive-minded.”
After both teams saw opportunities to start the second half, the Presidents dominated offensively for most of the second half as W&J kept the ball in Sea Gulls territory.
Despite this, W&J only got off one shot. The Sea Gulls would later pick up the pace and regained offensive control of the game, having multiple good looks. The Presidents’ defense, led by Israel in goal, still held strong.
With neither team still finding the back of the cage, the two ranked teams headed to overtime. After both teams found good opportunities during the overtime period, it was the Sea Gulls that finally broke through to end the game.
CAC Player of the Year and SU junior defender Jillian Hughes scored the unassisted game-winning goal for the Sea Gulls. The 1-0 victory sends SU into the NCAA Third Round on Sunday.
“It was a team effort all around,” Hughes said. “Everyone was contributing as much as they could and coming together in overtime.”
In the other second-round matchup Saturday, No. 4 Tufts University defeated Smith College 3-0. With their win, the Jumbos advance to Sunday’s NCAA Third Round game, where they will face Salisbury at 1 p.m.
“I’m excited [to face Tufts again]. I will never forget [my] freshman year when we lost to them in the playoffs,” Hughes said.
The winner will advance to the NCAA semifinals in Manheim, Pa. next weekend. Back in 2016, Tufts prevented the Sea Gulls from the national title game with a 1-0 victory in the NCAA semifinals.
“Salisbury is an excellent team; this is my fifth time playing them in the NCAA tournament,” Tufts head field hockey coach Tina Mattera said. “We know it is going to be a battle. I think we are pretty well matched with [Salisbury]. We both have good offensive teams, and we are both good defensively.”