BY RICKY POLLITT
The women’s soccer team’s season ended in a heartbreaking loss to Mary Washington after the Eagles won 3-2 in a shootout battle.
However, given the adversity Salisbury has gone through in 2015, some were surprised to even see the team make it to the playoffs.
After facing several difficulties, the Sea Gulls were able to rise to the occasion and give a fighting effort in the Capital Athletic Conference. In the end, their journey fell short, but their team’s bond had never been stronger.
Entering 2015, Salisbury had a huge question mark at the goalie position. Michelle Conrad, a four-year starter and former rookie of the year, graduated in May. Although Conrad came back as an assistant coach, head coach Kwame Lloyd had a big decision to make at the goalie position.
Three names emerged: junior Alesha Seifert, and sophomores Hope Knussman and Ellen Anderson. After a fierce battle in camp, Seifert walked away with the starting job.
“You want a competition in the beginning and hopefully find a top keeper,” Lloyd said. “We’re confident in all our goalkeepers, but Alesha really stepped up her game.”
Unfortunately for Seifert, she would have to wait several weeks to get an opportunity to start. An injury sidelined her for the first seven weeks of the season, however Salisbury was able to overcome this first obstacle.
Knussman stepped up and played lights out for the Gulls. She recorded four shutouts and helped get Salisbury to a 5-2 record. Despite her inexperience, Knussman performed when called upon.
The injuries didn’t end with Seifert. During the game against Southern Virginia, senior Victoria Luc went down and did not return until the end of the season.
At the time, Luc was leading all scorers on Salisbury with four goals already in the season. Weeks later, Jamie Tacka fell victim to the injury bug. She had yet to score a goal, but had helped set up her teammates to score goals of their own. Tacka also helped the defense shutdown opposing offenses.
“Not one person did the work when it came to stepping up,” Lloyd said. “It’s a collective effort, and it’s helped our team develop. You don’t replace (injured players), you have to do it by committee.”
In times where luck never seemed to be on Salisbury’s side, the eleven other seniors continued to inspire the younger players and make them believe they still had a chance at glory.
“You have confident players and you have supportive players, and having that many seniors help with the chemistry and help with the relatability,” Lloyd said. “Players know where to be after three years of being here, so that senior class does a good job making sure everyone knows their role.”
In the absence of some key players, several underclassmen began to find their grove and make their presence known on the squad.
Juniors Erin McQuate and Lindsey Andonian, along with sophomores Alex Pryor and Ruthie Lucas combined for 11 overall goals for the Gulls.
“Coach said when you come off the bench you’re a game changer, and he said you have to come in and change the game,” Pryor said.
As a unit, the defense was a big factor in Salisbury’s success in 2015. The group only allowed. 0.76 goals-per-game and recorded nine shutouts during the season.
Lloyd believes had it not been for the stellar play of the defense, the Gulls may not have done as well as they did.
“Our goalkeepers are phenomenal, and a backline that’s been playing together for three years. The trust that we have with each other has definitely been present,” he said.
Two losses and a tie in the last seven games of the regular season gave SU a date with Mary Washington in the first round of the CAC.
With Luc and Seifert back from injuries, SU looked to get back to the CAC semi-final round for the third time under Lloyd.
After coming up just short, SU is back to the drawing board preparing for 2016.
The adversity won’t end with the Sea Gulls losing 12 players to graduation, but much like this past season, Lloyd and his staff will look to younger players to step up when called upon and not miss a beat.
“When we step across the line we want to be competitive. To see the youthfulness, it inspires me and gets me excited about going forward,” Lloyd said. “I’ve enjoyed this season. It’s been fun.”