MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Salisbury is back in the national championship for the second time in three years and the Sea Gulls have not made it easy for themselves. In all three games in the NCAA tournament, Salisbury has fallen behind early and rallied back. But the Sea Gulls, seem not to panic and continue to keep their cool.
In Saturday’s national semifinal match, the Sea Gulls surrendered two goals in the first six minutes. Salisbury coach Jim Nestor, who rarely makes adjustments, trusted his squad once again.
“I am not doing too much correction,” Nestor said. “They’re out there figuring things out and they’re just settling in. The team knows not to panic.”
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That sentiment is not lost on his players. After Middlebury’s two-goal spat, the Sea Gulls scored three unanswered goals in less than a minute. Salisbury then held Middlebury’s high-powered offense to only two goals in the second half.
“We got down early, we do that a lot,” Salisbury midfielder Allie Wheatley said. “We know what we have to do to get back, we just know the 28 people next to us are incredible players, so we have faith in each and every one of them.”
Wheatley has been one of the many reasons Salisbury finds itself in the national title game. Wheatley has scored 12 of Salisbury’s 43 goals in the tournament, including six on Saturday, and will look to collect her second national championship on Sunday.
The other trend in all three of the Sea Gulls’ victories in the tournament is that Salisbury has been defeating foes with a well-balanced attack.
At least six different Salisbury players have scored a goal in each of the tournament games. Wheatley, Katie Bollhorst, and Lauren Feusahrens have collected goals in every tournament game.
Feusahrens might have saved her best performance for Saturday. Feusahrens registered a career-high eight points against Middlebury. Feusahrens scored five goals and dished out three assists.
“We try to spread things out, you have your players who draw a lot of attention and they’re giving up to other players who are making good cuts, and then they finish them,” Nestor said. “Everyone has that opportunity when they can score, will finish it, or has that ability to finish it. Taking care of the ball is our biggest thing.”
Salisbury’s run-and-gun style seems to frustrate its opponents.
“They definitely know how to break the zone defense and the second they got the ball they’re looking towards the goal to shoot. They came out guns blaring and they wanted to put the ball in the net,” said Middlebury defender Lucy Jackson.
Salisbury has now entered rarified air, just one victory away from completing an undefeated season.
Forty schools have entered the Division III Women’s Lacrosse tournament undefeated. However only 12 schools have actually finished the season without a loss.
But Nestor has never given that subject a thought.
“We never talked about being undefeated. We talked about one game at a time, one practice at a time, one day at a time.”