SALISBURY, Md. – After making a run to the NCAA Division III National Championship game last season, their second consecutive Final Four appearance and entering the season as the third-ranked team in the nation, the Salisbury University women's lacrosse team has high hopes in making another deep run in the postseason.
"Last season was incredible but we are looking to build off of that experience this year," said 19th-year head coach Jim Nestor. "We need to become more of a balanced team in all areas of the game throughout the year. When it gets close to tournament time, we need to play at a level that takes total focus and concentration in order to get back to championship weekend."
After losing a handful of key contributors from the 2019 team, Nestor believes this group of returners and newcomers will step up and shine for the Sea Gulls this season.
The Sea Gulls returns junior All-American Alexis Strobel. A season ago, Strobel ranked second in the country in assists with 73 dimes. Strobel added 23 goals for 93 points during her sophomore campaign.
Fellow junior Emma Skoglund also returns after a standout season where she led the team and ranked fifth in the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) in goals with 54.
"I believe Alexis and Emma have a lot of talent but more importantly they are dynamic players and great leaders. They both read defenses well and how to create scoring opportunities for themselves and their teammates."
Senior Gianna Demato and juniors Julie Talbert and Lydia McNulty are players that Nestor expects to make an impact on the Salisbury attack. Demato tallied 43 goals and 11 assists in 2019 while McNulty and Talbert recorded 29 and 21 points respectively.
Senior Emily McQuay is expected to be a go-to midfielder for the Sea Gulls this year. McQuay registered 28 ground balls, 15 goals and 10 draw controls in 2018 season but battled injuries in 2019. Junior Bri Held and sophomore Delaney Hill look to gain some added playing time this year in the midfield.
"The draws are something we are trying to figure out, we have a lot of different options I think we are going to use. That stat was too often not in our favor, so we need to balance that out better this season. In the midfield, we need to use our speed and athleticism to transition the ball to our offensive end."
After the graduation of two-time All-American Martha Hutzell, seniors Kendall Bannan, who was named All-Region last season, and Anna Wehland will lead the backline of the Sea Gulls. The team only gave up double-digit goals in 16 of 24 games in 2019. Bannan scooped up 40 ground balls and caused 33 turnovers while Wehland tallied 41 ground balls and 28 caused turnovers.
"Kendall and Anna are the cornerstones of the defense. They work very well together since they have both been starters for almost all four years for us. Both are tall, strong and aggressive and they also have the experience and knowledge to help lead this team in all areas this season."
Bannan and Wehland are expected to be joined by returning junior Carrie Hesen, who started all 24 games last season with 24 ground balls and 13 caused turnovers, along with senior Holly Bowers and junior Kate Lamberti. Bowers picked up 26 ground balls and caused 11 turnovers in 2019.
"The defense will be the key to our success, as the saying goes, offense win games, while defense wins championships. The defensive unit has a lot of experience playing together and we want the defensive unit to play as one and cause turnovers. Their communication will be a key factor in how well they play as well."
Senior goalkeeper Skye Graham is expected to lead the defense in her final year in the maroon and gold. A second-team All-Region goalkeeper, Graham tallied 153 saves in her first full season as the primary netminder.
"We are looking for Skye to be an anchor for us in the goal. She has been such a strong leader each year and continues to get better every day. Last year, Skye really stepped up and made some huge saves when we needed them the most and her communication with the defense is great. I am looking forward to seeing how much she continues to grow this season."
The Sea Gulls have a tough schedule ahead of them in the 2020 season with 10 top-20 teams on the docket.
"Our schedule is tough for a reason. The team needs to be battle-tested throughout the year so we can be prepared for conference play and the postseason."
The non-conference schedule is going to be a test for the Sea Gulls this season. On March 11, the Sea Gulls will get a visit from No. 2 Gettysburg for a tough matchup with the Bullets. Other notable games for the maroon and gold this season are on March 1 against No. 7 Washington and Lee, March 29 when the Sea Gulls travel to No. 9 TCNJ, and then when team heads to Florida to meet up with No. 10 William Smith on March 17.
The schedule doesn't get any easier once the Sea Gulls enter CAC play. After coming up short in the CAC Championship game against York last season, the team looks to capture its 19th CAC Championship in program history. Some of the more notable conference games this season for the Sea Gulls are on Wednesday, April 15 against No. 5 York for a rematch of the CAC Championship game. Then the Sea Gulls close out their regular season with a trip to No. 14 Mary Washington on April 23 in another tough conference game.
Salisbury opens the 2020 season on the road when they travel to Owings Mills, Md. to take on the Stevenson Mustangs on Saturday, Feb. 15 at 1 p.m. Salisbury returns home for a three-game homestand, starting on Saturday, Feb. 22 at 1 p.m. against the No. 10 Catholic Cardinals.