By Zach Gilleland
What: No. 5 Salisbury women’s lacrosse hosts Stevenson
When: Saturday at 3 pm
Where: Sea Gull Stadium
How to Watch: Sea Gull Sports Network
After a heartbreaking overtime loss in the NCAA Tournament a season ago, the Salisbury University women’s lacrosse team returns for another season. The Sea Gulls will host a former Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) foe in Stevenson in their annual meeting.
Last Meeting: Salisbury defeated Stevenson 9-5 on the road last season. The Sea Gulls have defeated the Mustangs every meeting during the new millennium.
Salisbury: The Sea Gulls look to defend their home turf in the season opener Saturday. Salisbury held a 12-2 record at home last season, including seven wins by 10 goals or more. After losing only three seniors due to graduation, the Sea Gulls could be primed for another deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Offense: One of the main strengths Salisbury possesses is their ability to put the ball in the back of the net, averaging 12.43 goals per game last season. The CAC’s second most efficient goal-scoring team will challenge a Stevenson defense that loses its starting goalkeeper due to graduation.
Even with the loss of first-team All-American Megan Wallenhorst, the Sea Gulls return a deep group of starters on the offensive side, with four of the team’s top-five point scorers returning. Highlighted by senior midfielder Gabbi Nieves and junior attackers Dana King and Kristen Murphy, Salisbury will look to its veterans to provide offense.
Defense: Ranking second in save percentage and goals-against average, the return of junior goalkeeper Gianna Falcone provides stability in the back end of the Sea Gull defense. The defense remains mostly intact, with seniors Kayla Miller, Kacy Koolage and Kieran Kelleher providing the bulk of playing time. With a large influx of freshmen on the roster, the seniors will be relied upon heavily this season.
Player to Watch: Senior midfielder Gabbi Nieves.
On an offense that could score early and score often, Nieves stood out as the team’s leading goal-scorer. With 41 goals and a 55 percent shooting percentage a season ago, look for Nieves to have plenty of opportunities to score.
Stevenson: Coming off a 10-9 season, it was a tale of two halves for the Mustangs. After dropping seven of its first nine games, Stevenson got into a rhythm, winning eight of its last 10 games to end the season. With a close loss to the Sea Gulls last season, a key road win would be a perfect way for the Mustangs to start the season.
Offense: Led by the duo of senior attackers Brady Heher and Olivia Monteiro, Stevenson returns a majority of their scoring talent from last season. Inconsistent at times, seven games were decided by 10 goals or more.
Their offense has the ability to score goals. After struggling to score during their nonconference slate, the Mustangs picked it up during conference season, averaging over 13 goals-per-game. Scoring only five against Salisbury last season, Stevenson will look to be aggressive on offense.
Defense: With a defense that includes only one senior, the Mustangs lead a young defense into Sea Gull Stadium. Stevenson gave up 10.64 goals-per-game, struggling at times to keep the ball out of the net.
A wildcard for the Mustangs will be at the goalkeeper position. Starting goalkeeper Maggie Lawder graduated, meaning there will be a new face in the goal for Stevenson.
Player to Watch: Sophomore goalkeeper Hannah DePadua.
After playing in five games last season, DePadua looks to take over the reins in goal. In what could be her first career start against a top-five team in the country, the Mustangs’ chances could be decided by the young goalkeeper.