Salisbury University’s men’s soccer team had high expectations entering the 2019 season after finishing third in the Capital Athletic Conference and securing an 11-4-3 overall record. However, the Sea Gulls opened the season with a 2-1 loss to Carnegie Mellon University.
The Tartans got off to a fast start, notching two goals in the first fifteen minutes of the match. Salisbury tallied a late goal from freshman forward George Fotiou, but the comeback ultimately fell short.
This was the third straight year the Sea Gulls started off the season 0-1 after an opening day loss in Salisbury’s Elmer Lord Tournament. Senior defender Alex Eiben felt that this year’s loss stung the most.
“I think this [year’s] is a little more upsetting because we have a pretty strong back line and pretty strong team that was returning,” Eiben said.
After falling short to the Tartans, head coach Alex Hargrove believed the Sea Gulls' locker room was hungry and determined to come out the next day and get back into the win column.
“It was a disappointing loss that we suffered that Friday, and the guys were motivated to come out and make a statement in the next game,” Hargrove said.
The Gulls have since gotten back to reaching the high expectations they set for themselves last season with a string of impressive wins.
Following the loss, Salisbury defeated Gallaudet University in day two of the Elmer Lord Tournament 7-1. Seven different Sea Gulls scored in Salisbury’s dominant win over the Bison.
In addition to the offensive outburst from Salisbury, a key change was made in the second half of the contest. Freshman goalkeeper Ryan Miller played the second half of the match, which led to him recording his first start in the following game against Neumann University.
Eiben said the team was able to refocus and effectively execute its game plan vs. Gallaudet.
“After [the Carnegie Mellon loss], we knew what we needed to do, we knew where we messed up,” Eiben said.
The Sea Gulls were able to get a statement win that, in the eyes of junior forward Dolph Hegewisch, put the entire nation on notice.
“The guys were ready to bounce back the next day and show what kind of force that we are,” Hegewisch said. “We’re here to compete for a national championship and a conference championship, we looked strong and [the Gallaudet] game set the tone for the season.”
After Salisbury split the Elmer Lord Tournament, the Sea Gulls would begin a three-game road trip, starting at Neumann College.
The Sea Gulls secured a 3-1 victory over the Knights, with junior midfielder Dolph Hegewisch scoring Salisbury’s first two goals. In addition to his two goals scored at Neumann, Hegewisch has a team-leading five assists on the season.
Hegewisch credits his teammates’ ability to get good shots on goal and the team chemistry to the early success of Salisbury’s offense.
“[My teammates] have been getting into good spaces, which makes it very easy for me to create and lead up to a lot of goals,” Hegewisch said. “We’ve been playing together for four years, and it’s finally starting to come together.”
Miller recorded his first career win in the victory over Neumann and established himself as the starter in goal. He has recorded 15 saves and allowed just two goals in his four appearances this season.
Miller said having the consistent Sea Gull offense in front of him has helped bolster his confidence and the confidence of the rest of the defense as well.
“I think it has a really big impact on not only myself, but Seth [Walter, Alex] Eiben, [Matt] Makenzie, knowing that we have a strong offense in front of us,” Miller said.
After two straight wins, the Sea Gulls headed across the Chesapeake Bay to St. Mary’s College of Maryland for the Seahawk Classic. Salisbury started the tournament by facing Kean University, whom it would top 2-1.
While down 1-0 at the half, Salisbury switched formations in the backline. This switch helped the Sea Gulls hold the Cougars scoreless in the second half.
Junior defender Luke Ahalt and senior midfielder Matt Hawkins scored second-half goals to complete Salisbury’s comeback, keeping the win streak alive. Miller said that the formation switch helped the Sea Gull defense click.
“I think that we’re more comfortable out on the field,” Miller said. “[Our backline] switched formations in the Kean game, and it has been working really well for us.”
Eleven players have scored a goal for Salisbury this season. Junior forward Josh Woozley leads the team with three scores on the season, and he tallied two in the Sea Gulls' next contest, a 4-1 victory over Bridgewater College.
Hargrove believes that continued hard work and effort on the practice field will carry over to improved play and more victories for the Sea Gulls.
“We got to make sure these guys are coming into practice playing and competing at a high tempo, finding the back of the net and are coming out and giving that same positive energy they’ve been given inside those white lines for 90 minutes on match day,” Hargrove said.
Salisbury’s defense reached a new height on Saturday as it recorded a shutout win over Virginia Wesleyan University, 1-0. Fotiou tallied the eventual game-winner in the 76th minute, pushing the Gulls to their 5-1 record on the year.
Miller saw time again in this game due to an injury sustained by sophomore goalie Ashton Carey. He credited the team’s preparation for its ability to step and perform well against all different types of opponents.
“We always go into every game ready to win, no matter if we’re playing the top team in the country or the last team in the country,” Miller said.
Hargrove credits his offense's ability to produce consistently as a key factor to its success as the season continues.
“Those guys are running the show right now,” Hargrove said. “There’s not a whole lot of coaching to do with our offense; it’s about getting them out there, making sure they’re seeing the back of the net throughout the week and putting them in positions for them to create success themselves.”
By BRANDON STARK
Featured photos: Brendan Link images.