Salisbury University field hockey, one of the institution’s most storied athletic programs, entered the 2021 season in a rebuild.
With three returners from the team’s last National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III National Tournament appearance, the squad fielded a roster with little experience against top collegiate competition as it entered the new Coast-to-Coast Athletic Conference.
Senior forward McKenzie Mitchell, one of the team’s key returners and leaders, said the team embraced the challenge of integrating its new players and slowly building a foundation for the program throughout the season.
“I think we had to find ourselves because we had such a young team starting out,” Mitchell said. “We knew we had to start gelling and playing well together to reach that goal of winning the C2C championship.”
While keeping its hopes alive for a third-consecutive conference title, Mitchell said the team focused on 1% improvements every time it stepped onto the field, including after a tough 1-0 loss in the regular season to Christopher Newport University.
In a potential revenge game against CNU in the conference championship, Mitchell said SU was an “entirely different team.”
“We didn’t play individually. We played as a whole entire group, and that’s why we did so well,” Mitchell said. ”We all knew we had to get that ball in the back of the cage, and we did.”
SU controlled the game early following two quick scores by Mitchell, culminating in a 4-1 victory over CNU to claim the C2C’s inaugural championship banner Nov. 6 for the team’s twenty-third conference title.
Mitchell was named to the All-C2C Field Hockey First Team. Senior goalkeeper Dom Farrace also earned C2C Player of the Year honors after leading the conference in wins and saves.
The victory vaulted the Sea Gulls into the 2021 NCAA Tournament to extend the squad’s active streak of 27-straight appearances, the most by any team across the NCAA’s three divisions, per SU Athletics.
“It’s such a great program … we knew we had to play our best and grind it out like we’ve done so many years before,” Mitchell said.
Salisbury later fell to No. 2 Johns Hopkins in the second round of the tournament, 1-0, to end the season with an overall record of 12-8.
SU field hockey was not the university’s only program to find success in conference play this season.
SU football sat atop the New Jersey Athletic Conference standings following its 38-7 rout over William Paterson University to cap off the team’s undefeated six-game run through conference play during the 2021 season.
Finishing with a 9-1 overall record, the team averaged 40 points per game in the regular season, with an 84-point performance against CNU Oct. 30, to earn its third-straight conference title.
SU suffered its only loss at the hands of University of Wisconsin-Whitewater during the Warhawks’ undefeated regular season campaign.
Salisbury’s success depended on a ground attack that almost doubled the output of any of its six conference opponents, led by sophomore superback Joey Bildstein’s 708 rushing yards on the season, according to SU Athletics.
SU also fielded the conference’s best scoring defense, holding opponents to an average of less than 14 points per game.
After conquering the NJAC, No. 11 SU entered the NCAA Tournament with a first-round matchup against Johns Hopkins University. The Blue Jays also entered the contest with one regular season loss.
By JAKOB TODD
Featured image courtesy of Kylie Ferry.