By Zach Gilleland
The No. 2 Salisbury University field hockey team advanced into the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament Saturday, shutting out Kenyon College 3-0 despite a sluggish game offensively.
Off the heels of their fourth consecutive Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) championship, the Sea Gulls (17-1) tried to avoid the same fate as last year’s team which was upset in the second round by The University of Rochester. Equipped with a high-scoring attack and stout defense, this year’s team seemed poised for a deep run in the tournament.
Fans in attendance at Sea Gull Stadium saw a different Salisbury offense Saturday. After scoring eight goals against Mary Washington in the CAC championship, the offense couldn’t replicate their success against a Kenyon team (15-7) led defensively by three-time All-American and junior goalie Sarah Speroff.
The offense was desperate to create an early lead, rushing plays and forcing passes. The result of last season’s finish seemed to play a part in the team’s performance.
“We’re happy and fortunate that we moved on out of this round,” SU Head Coach Dawn Chamberlin said. “Last year we were upset in this [round] so the nerves were pretty high and that reflected our level of play on the field today. We played very tight and we couldn’t get into a rhythm.”
A ‘bend and don’t break’ attitude by its defense helped Kenyon keep the Sea Gulls from scoring early on. Salisbury was unable to convert many of its scoring chances in the first half, and shots by senior forward Becca Rinaca and sophomore forward Kristen Yingling went just wide of the goal. Speroff was a force in the net, diving for saves and kicking loose balls out of the box.
Sea Gull junior goalie Tressie Windsor was equally as impressive, not allowing a goal in the first half. The Ladies’ offense had a difficult time staying in the box, with Salisbury defenders collapsing and forcing tough shots.
The Sea Gulls finally broke through off senior midfielder Abbey Shobe’s team-leading sixteenth goal of the season, assisted by Yingling. Yingling faced a flurry of Kenyon defenders in her path and passed the ball to an open Shobe on the right side.
Shobe had an open net and capitalized, giving Salisbury the lead. The Sea Gulls have scored the opening goal in every game this season.
“That’s been one of our goals all year to get out and get the first [goal] so it gives us some breathing room,” Chamberlin said.
The second half yielded better success for Salisbury. Eight minutes into the half, senior midfielder Cassie Preisch added her first goal of the season after a pass from freshman midfielder Arielle Johnston.
Off a penalty corner, Johnston couldn’t find a clean shot. Flanked by a Lady defender Johnston found Preisch on the right wing, allowing Preisch to deliver a hard shot past Speroff.
Junior forward Natalie Wilkinson added the final goal with less than five minutes remaining to seal the game for the Sea Gulls. Rinaca intercepted a Kenyon pass, finding Wilkinson with a long pass through the middle of the field. Wilkinson collected the ball, turned to her forehand and fired the ball into the back of the cage.
Salisbury took 16 shots throughout the game. The Sea Gulls only produced six shots in the second half, but moved the ball around with better success.
“In the first half we didn’t pass so we weren’t as successful as we needed to be,” Chamberlin said. “We are a passing team, we move the ball very well when we get into that and stick to that type of play and we didn’t do that in the first half. We did a little bit better in the second half and it garnered two goals for us but we have to be in that type of game plan to really be successful. Hopefully we’ll be able to get into that rhythm tomorrow and move the ball a little bit better.”
Windsor finished the game with three saves. The Salisbury defense has now shut out its last five opponents.
“We played a little frantic in the first half,” Windsor said. “Coming into the second half we knew we had to clean it up and we did. We had some issues on the post but [senior back] Jessie Todd stepped up and covered it perfectly.”
Next up for the Sea Gulls is a third-round matchup against No. 6 Ursinus College on Sunday. Ursinus defeated No. 9 Trinity (Conn.) 2-1 Saturday.
“Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed at this point in the season,” Preisch said. “We have to come out [Sunday] better than we did today to get the job done.”