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Brian Falzarano | | May 24, 2014

Salisbury's triple threat pushes Gulls to title game

  Shannon Carta helped Salisbury to its third consecutive championship game.

GETTYSBURG, Pa. --  Even before Salisbury embarked upon yet another national title quest back in February, seniors Shannon Carta and Shelby Nemecek gathered to discuss the gravity of how their new, expanded roles would work towards the Sea Gulls final goal of repeating as NCAA Division III women’s lacrosse national champions.

Salisbury 9, Trinity (Conn.) 5 RecapStats Highlights
Championship Gallery
Falzarano: Sweet redemption for Sea Gulls
Falzarano: For Trinity, all good things must come to an end
Salisbury 8, Amherst 5: Recap Stats Highlights
Falzarano: Salisbury focused on the next step
Trinity (Conn.) 8, Cortland 7: Recap Stats Highlights
Falzarano: The rock of Trinity (Conn.) defense
Brackets: Interactive Printable
Stats: 2014 Division II Tournament
They recalled this conversation sitting in a classroom Saturday at Gettysburg College, both beaming from ear-to-ear while surrounded by their teammates and coach mere minutes after they played pivotal roles in Salisbury’s 8-4 victory against Amherst at Clark Field that set up a third consecutive championship-game rematch against Trinity College (Conn.) on Sunday afternoon.

Carta and Nemechek, along with junior Kate Haker, comprise perhaps the most prolific attacking unit in Division III. All three reached this point the previous two seasons as the Sea Gulls lost in 2012 before exacting revenge last season with the championship on the line.

Only now, they were chief among the biggest differences between No. 2 Salisbury (22-2) and No. 5 Amherst (19-3) on Saturday, combining for 10 points - just as their versatility and skill could ultimately help the Sea Gulls win the championship-game rubber match.

“We’ve had the talk where we know we had to step up,” Carta recalled after her one-goal, two-assist performance gave her a team-high tying 73 points. “Being seniors, too, it’s more meaningful and more passionate to kind of step up and play [a bigger] role. We wanted to prove to coach and prove to everyone that even though we lost a lot (from 2013), we’re just as good as we were last year.”

Indeed, the Sea Gulls lost 183 points of production from Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association All-Americans attackers Katie Bollhorst and Lauren Feusahrens, which ultimately provided the impetus for that conversation between Carta and Nemechek.

Both Carta and Nemechek work remarkably well together, with one teammate assisting on the other’s goal 23 times including twice on Saturday. Carta and Haker, a lefty who recorded a hat trick and two assists, work the Salisbury attack from behind the net either as facilitators and finishers -- the latter being the case when Haker told Nemechek to clear out so she could take a defender one-on-one before finding the back of the cage.

“I know how to read of them,” said Nemechek, who tallied two goals to give her a team-best 67 to go with her team-high tying 73 points. “I’ve been playing with them for a while. I read off Kate and I know when she’s going to go.”

“It’s pretty balanced out there having me and Shannon down low out there and Shelby gets open,” said Haker, who has 37 goals and 17 assists thus far. “The flow of our offense, we just had it going especially just working off of each other. It set up a lot of opportunities for each other.”

Meanwhile, Salisbury’s offensive flow and skill created defensive difficulties all afternoon for Amherst. Especially after top defender Kerry Fusco suffered a serious knee injury in the first half, forcing Lord Jeffs coach Christine Paradis to shuffle her lineup.

“I think our defense held their ground most of the game … but they had a lot of weapons,” Paradis said. “Seventeen [Haker] and five [Carta] make things happen. As much as you’re worried about them, if you start sending the doubles to them it opens up other people. They do a lot for them.

Months after their preseason chat, Carta and Nemechek have excelled in their new, expanded roles while Salisbury finds itself in a most familiar place: The national championship game, just 70 minutes away from completing its second consecutive title quest and third in five seasons.