After a highly contested battle against the country’s top-ranked program at Kerr Stadium in Salem, Virginia, Salisbury University women’s lacrosse was crowned champion.
The fourth-seeded Sea Gulls defeated Tufts University 14-13 in the 2021 National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III National Championship game on May 23, polishing off SU’s second-ever undefeated campaign.
Head Coach Jim Nestor described a feeling of “total exhilaration” after the squad sealed perfection with a final record of 20-0.
With “great senior and upperclassman leadership” to complement a solid core of players on all three levels of the field, Nestor said the program’s fourth championship felt “even more special” to complete the season undefeated.
Nestor earned the distinction of IWLCA NCAA Division III National Coach of the Year in the aftermath of the Sea Gulls’ pursuit of perfection.
The Sea Gulls’ success was fueled by the joint efforts of attackers Alexis Strobel, the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association National Player of the Year, and Julie Talbert, the IWLCA Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament.
Following the departures of seniors Strobel and Talbert, as well as IWLCA National Defensive Player of the Year Carrie Hesen, Nestor said the loss of senior leadership has been a "glaring obstacle" facing the Sea Gulls since the title victory.
But once again tabbed the nation’s top team in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Poll, SU’s reshaped roster seeks to protect its throne atop Division III in 2022.
Nestor said replacing the leadership and offensive firepower of Strobel and Talbert must be addressed collectively by the team, though he expects attackers Mary Hanzsche, Anna Robinson and Erin Scannell each to act as major contributors in the Sea Gulls’ offensive attack.
Senior Lily Cavallaro and fifth-year graduate Emma Skoglund will each also be returning for SU after both missed nearly the entire 2021 season due to injury.
The four-time national champion head coach expects SU’s defensive unit to have a “big impact” in the team’s 2022 title hunt as well, led by midfielder Delaney Hill and defenders Brooke Adams and Grace Murray.
Integrating the squad’s latest batch of starters into its already “solid core” of talent has been a primary focus throughout the offseason, in addition to becoming more familiar with the team’s offensive style to reestablish its “continuity” on both sides of the field, Nestor said.
While a second consecutive Coast-to-Coast Athletic Conference championship remains in Nestor’s sight, the “ultimate expectation is to get back to the Final Four and put us in a position to defend the title.”
Salisbury’s title defense began Feb. 12 in Owings Mills with a dominant 15-5 victory over Stevenson University. Scannell and Hill paced the Sea Gulls with three scores apiece.
After taming the Mustangs in its season opener, Salisbury embarks on a schedule featuring 11 of the nation’s top 20 Division III programs, including seven in March alone.
“We want to play the best so we can be the best,” Nestor said. “The bullseye is going to be pretty big on our back … so we have to make sure every single day we’re preparing to get better.”
Nestor expects SU’s home match against Washington and Lee University to set the early-season tone for the Sea Gulls Feb. 26.
By JAKOB TODD
Featured image courtesy of Brad Boardman.