Salisbury University’s men’s soccer team boasted a crowded but talented goalie room this season. Four freshmen vied for the starting job heading into the first game, but it was senior Sam Roy who led the group to start the campaign.
However, an injury to Roy would shake up the game plan for the opening matchup: freshman and James M. Bennett High School alumnus Gabe Dunn stepped into goal for his first collegiate contest.
Salisbury would lose the game, but Dunn made three saves and looked at the outing as an opportunity to grow.
“There were some nerves for sure, but as a defense, we settled into the game, and although we didn’t get the result we wanted, it was a good step to build off of,” Dunn said.
After the opening action, Dunn stayed patient and continued to work with his fellow goalies to train and refine his skills. The benefit of having other goalies on the roster has pushed all of them to play at their best.
Head coach Alex Hargrove says having depth at the position provides a significant benefit to the team in practicing.
“It’s been fantastic for the entire training environment in terms of activities we’re able to run and certainly from a developmental opportunity for the goalkeepers,” Hargrove said. “It opens up the range of opportunity with the type of exercises and the amounts of reps.”
But fellow freshman Ryan Miller would burst on the scene, starting nine of the next 11 games for Salisbury. He recorded a 1.09 GAA in his time in goal in 2019.
Dunn’s next chance to start came against Christopher Newport University on Oct. 12. The Sea Gulls would lose the game, but Dunn showed promise and started the next two contests in goal for Salisbury against conference foes York College and St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
Against York, Dunn put together an impressive five-save shutout, leading Salisbury to victory and ending a four-game losing streak. Dunn allowed a goal in the next match against the Seahawks, but recorded five more saves and helped the Sea Gulls to back-to-back victories.
Dunn did not start the following game against the University of Mary Washington, but started the final three games of the season.
Hargrove said the Sea Gulls were at their best down the stretch with Dunn in goal.
“We’re looking to put the best 11 guys out that give us the best chance to win the match,” Hargrove said. “We want a goalkeeper that is consistent day to day, a keeper that communicates well and controls his box.”
Establishing communication between the various goalies and the defense was critical for Salisbury.
Senior defender Trent Hofmeister praised Dunn’s communication to the rest of the defense.
“Gabe is really vocal back there. He's stepped up and been a leader for me, Evan [Koehn], [Kyle] Munson and [Matt] Mackenzie, and all the guys that play on the backline,” Hofmeister said.
Dunn’s performance should come as no surprise, as he had a successful high school career, winning the Bayside Championship in his senior year at Bennett High. During his time at Bennett, he also often attended Hargrove’s soccer camp and became familiar with many of the upperclassmen he would soon call teammates.
Dunn said this helped build chemistry with his teammates before ever suiting up in the maroon and gold.
“I’ve done the soccer sessions camps with coach Al since he was a player,” Dunn said. “Now coming in and the seeing the upgrades in terms of the people I play with … seeing those guys out there and now playing with them is a cool transition.”
Dunn recorded his second shutout of the season in a 2-0 win over Southern Virginia University on Oct. 26. The Sea Gulls would drop the next two and end the year with a 9-9-1 record.
Dunn finished the season with a 3-4 record, notching 31 saves and a 1.13 goals against average.
Hargrove said having this level of depth at goalie is a change from previous years.
“Before, we had a clear and established number one, and this year, we have five keepers, and any number of those guys [has] shown the ability to step up,” Hargrove said.
Dunn was the established number one at Bennett, but he adjusted to his situation and became a better keeper because of it.
Dunn said that training with the other goalies brought a new level of competition, especially knowing that everyone in the room could start.
On a week-to-week basis, Dunn’s preparation during the season remained the same. He strived to prepare as if he was starting every week because he knew his number could be called on any given night.
“I prepare the same way every time because [Hargrove] is super comfortable with all of us, so he can switch it up at any given point, and I’ll do what is needed to support the team, whether that’s being a supportive teammate on the bench or being in goal,” Dunn said.
By ALEX BOESMAN
Featured photo: Sports Information image.