Mitchell's goal lifts Salisbury field hockey to Elite Eight
Sea Gull Stadium saw two NCAA Field Hockey Second Round matchups. No. 3 Salisbury University (18-1) took on Fairleigh Dickerson University-Florham (18-5) in the first of the two contests.
The Sea Gulls defeated Christopher Newport University 2-1 to win their 22nd Capital Athletic Conference Championship in the past 25 years, earning the CAC’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Salisbury head coach Dawn Chamberlin received her 18th CAC Coach of the Year award this season and led the Sea Gulls into their 26th consecutive NCAA Tournament. This is currently the longest active streak across all NCAA divisions.
FDU-Florham knocked off DeSales University (13-9) to win the Middle Atlantic Conference Freedom Conference Championship and earn the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Head coach Maura Johnston replaced longtime head coach and current Devils athletic director Jenna Noon. In her first season at the helm, Johnston led the Devils to the second round of the tournament.
Johnston credits her predecessor’s recruiting and good coaching in the past as key contributors to the Devils’ success this season and her smooth transition into the head coaching role.
“I was left luckily with such a good group. Coach Noon before me really did recruit the best, and she was a fantastic coach for them, so that really made the [coaching] turnover pretty easy, I would say,” Johnston said.
The Devils came into Saturday’s contest following a 1-0 win over Marywood University in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Sea Gulls earned a first-round bye.
After finding out Wednesday night they would be playing the Devils, the Sea Gulls prepared for this game by perfecting their game, the game that has led them to this point of the season.
“It’s not really preparation on who we were playing, it’s preparation on reassuring that we’re going to continue to do the things that we’ve done all year to get to this point,” Chamberlin said. “It’s not about the other team, it’s about us playing our game.”
Salisbury outshot FDU-Florham 7-3 in the scoreless first half as both offenses got good looks in the first two quarters but were unable to capitalize.
In the third quarter, a penalty stroke was called for Salisbury. Sophomore McKenzie Mitchell sent her second penalty stroke of 2019 to the back of the cage to put the Sea Gulls up 1-0.
Mitchell said that she could not take full credit for the score,
“It felt pretty good, but I can’t take all the credit for me scoring,” Mitchell said. “It wasn’t me who drew the stroke, it was somebody else, but everything that we’ve done in the game, it’s because of all of us, not just one person.”
Salisbury stayed aggressive on offense and shut down the Devils on route to a 1-0 victory over FDU-Florham. With the win, Salisbury advances to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season and for the third time in the last four years.
“Anytime we win at this point and we have the opportunity to keep our season going, that’s a good thing,” Chamberlin said. “We’re excited that we get to move forward.”
Devils junior goalie Megan March made 10 saves on 11 shots on goal, allowing just the one goal throughout the contest.
Junior goalie Dom Farrace got the shutout win for the maroon and gold, making two saves on two shots on goal.
As a Glen Burnie native, this game meant a lot to March. She was still satisfied with her performance against the Sea Gulls, who average 3.58 goals per game, the ninth-best mark in the NCAA.
“I knew coming in this was going to be a hard game, and especially for me it meant even more because I’m from Maryland,” March said. “It was nice to step up and face 10 shots and only let one in.”
With the win, the Sea Gulls are one win away from returning to the Final Four for the first time since the 2016 season, when the senior leaders on the team were freshmen. The 2016 Sea Gulls defeated Kenyon College 3-0 and sixth-ranked Ursinus College 1-0 to advance to the final four.
Senior defenseman Jillian Hughes remembers the feeling of defeating the Bears to advance to the Final Four. Hughes says that she and her teammates are hungry to get back to the Final Four this year.
“I remember playing in the Elite Eight game, and I remember the feeling that when we won that game, and the feeling that we get the opportunity to move on to the Final Four,” Hughes said. “I think every senior especially on our team, but everyone on our team wants to [have] that feeling, they want to work hard for that, and we’re going to do as much as we can tomorrow to make that happen.”
Salisbury University is set to face Lynchburg University (20-3) today after the Hornets' 1-0 win over No 8 Rowan (15-5) at 1 p.m.
By BRANDON STARK
Featured photo: Sports Information image.