May 23, 2010

By Jeff Seidel
Special to NCAA.com

GETTYSBURG, Pa. - The Salisbury women's lacrosse team began celebrating the moment the clock ran out in Sunday's Division III national championship. Players ran on to the field to mob goalie Julie Ann Caulfield in front of her goal as their long streak of frustration had finally ended.

Or had it?

For several moments, no one was sure what happened. The Sea Gulls were up by one, and Caulfield made a save with one second left, but Hamilton's Kim Rave scored right after that to apparently tie the game. The officials conferred and then waved off the goal, letting Salisbury escape with a 7-6 victory over previously unbeaten Hamilton in the title game at Gettysburg College.

Salisbury (21-1) lost in its previous three trips to the national championship. The Sea Gulls fell to Franklin & Marshall in overtime in last year's title game. The Diplomats also beat Salisbury, 11-8, in the 2007 title game, and the Sea Gulls dropped a 9-7 decision to The College of New Jersey in 2005.

Title games. Frustrating losses. The two seemed to go hand-in-hand for the Salisbury lacrosse team.

And for several anxious moments Sunday, it looked like Salisbury might have to go to overtime in a title game once more. But the Sea Gulls finally got some good news and came away with a championship.

"I looked over and saw double zero [on the clock] and I saw the girls coming on," said Salisbury coach Jim Nestor. "I didn't even see the ball go in the goal. I didn't even see them shoot it. It's a just great feeling [now]."

The players were delighted with finally winning the championship - most of them couldn't stop smiling, especially when asked what they were going to do now.

"Enjoy it," said Aileen McCausland, who scored the game-winning goal. "Definitely going to enjoy it."

The Sea Gulls got a lot of help from a lot of places. Goalie Caulfield made five of her eight saves after the break and kept the Sea Gulls in the hunt in what was not an easy victory. Salisbury also forced six turnovers in the second half and limited Hamilton to just two second-half goals.

Hamilton (21-1) looked like it was going to run away with this game in the early minutes. Liz Rave scored two of her three goals in the early going to give the Continentals a 3-0 lead with 18 minutes, 52 seconds left in the first half.

They moved to a 4-1 lead when Kate Otley scored with 11:17 left. But Jessica Chmielewski scored for Salisbury just 57 seconds later, and that seemed to give the Sea Gulls a spark.

"It [got] everyone going," Nestor said. "[It] gives us the boost of confidence we needed."

Logan Bilderback (two goals) cut the lead to 4-3 late in the first half, and Kim Cudmore tied it one minute after the break. The teams then traded goals twice with Allie Wheatley tying it at six for Salisbury by converting a pass from Kim Rhodey inside the eight-meter arc with 17:42 left.

The Sea Gulls then had several chances to score after that - not an easy task against goalie Kate Fowler, who finished with 14 saves, many of them tough.

But they finally broke through when McCausland (the tournament's Most Outstanding Player) scored with 5:26 left. The play was similar to the game-tying goal and gave Salisbury its first lead.

"When it hit the back of the net, I was so excited," she said.

The Sea Gulls got the ball back after a Hamilton turnover with about five minutes left and ate up over four minutes before a turnover with 52 seconds left set up the wild ending.

Hamilton coach Patty Kloidt - and Nestor - both said they didn't hear the horn on the field that signifies the end of the half. But Kloidt said her team had its chances.

"We got three shots off in the final 30 seconds," she said. "I'm proud of my kids. They fought to the bitter end. We have nothing to be ashamed of."

When asked afterwards about her shot, Rave said she thought it went in.

"I wish they called it a goal, for sure," she said quietly.

But they didn't --and the day belonged to Salisbury. It was a day the Sea Gulls and their fans had dreamed about for a very long time.

Nestor now has a 157-20 record in his nine seasons as the team's coach. They've been to the NCAA tournament eight times and in the finals four times.

But now Salisbury's got that championship ring that eluded it for so long.

And the Sea Gulls will certainly enjoy wearing them.

"My life's complete," Caulfield said with a smile.