The top-seeded Salisbury University women’s lacrosse team saw its streak of 16 straight championships come to an end as York College of Pennsylvania left Sea Gull Stadium with the 13-11 victory and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Sea Gulls (16-3) had a promising start to the game, scoring first on a quick wrap-around goal from sophomore attacker Alexis Strobel just 47 seconds into the contest. Strobel came into the championship game playing some of her best lacrosse, tallying 12 points in her two previous efforts.
The Spartans (15-5) were not fazed, scoring the next two goals to take the lead. The first came on a free position shot from senior midfielder Caitlin Rankin, while the second was scored by freshman attacker Celly Arthur.
After 13 scoreless minutes for the Gulls, senior attacker Gabby Mongno was able to beat her defender and find the back of the net, tying the game at 2-2. Mongno has scored in nine of the last 10 games for Salisbury.
York took control of the game once again, rattling off three straight goals and extending the lead to 5-2. Two of these goals were scored by junior attacker Meghan Fox, who holds the team high in goals scored.
Junior midfielder Taylor Poore looked to dry up the Spartans’ momentum, burying her first free position shot of the night. Poore had four goals and three caused turnovers on the afternoon.
Fox tallied one more for the Spartans before the half, setting the score at 6-3 at the break.
Strobel, Mongno and Poore each tallied a point from their first-half goals, but no Sea Gulls recorded an assist in the first half. For the Spartans, Fox led the way with three goals and an assist at the break.
The Gulls came out firing in the second half, scoring five of the first six goals of the period and taking an 8-7 lead. The main force in Salisbury’s comeback effort was senior attacker Lindsey Wagner, who notched three unassisted goals in the second half.
Wagner said Salisbury’s second half success came from a game plan change on the offensive side.
“We knew on attack, we had to take our one-on-ones,” Wagner said. “We just started to get on the same page as a team.”
The Spartans quickly recovered, with two goals coming from Arthur and junior midfielder Hayley McCormick.
Coming back on offense, Strobel found a cutting Mongno who buried her shot attempt. This was the first of just two assists on the afternoon for the Salisbury offense.
The Spartans went on another significant run, notching their second 3-0 run in the game and giving York the lead for good.
Salisbury tried to claw back in the game, as Poore cut the deficit to two with under five minutes remaining. The Spartans would answer back within seconds to stretch the lead back to three.
Junior attacker Gianna Demato then gave the Gulls an opportunity to come back with her second goal of the night, but Salisbury was unable to capitalize on two shot opportunities with under a minute remaining.
Head coach Jim Nestor said the inability to make changes after facing the Spartans earlier this season was one of the main struggles for the Gulls.
“We need to be able to make adjustments, as they did from the first time we played them,” Nestor said. “They had easy looks … we need to do a better job in making those adjustments.”
But there are some positives to take away from the loss. Losing just before the tournament can highlight weaknesses that could be overlooked when a team is winning.
Nestor said this was critical for the Gulls, as it brought some issues to light that need to be worked on going into the NCAA Tournament.
“I think the big thing is on offense, flow a little bit better and finish on the opportunities we do create,” Nestor said. “Defensively, we need to be able to adjust better.”
The matchup between two top-10 teams in DIII replicated a NCAA Tournament game in many ways. The increased intensity of playoff lacrosse was on display and gave both teams valuable experience heading into the tournament.
Wagner, who has plenty of tournament experience, felt the intensity and competitiveness of this game was significant for the Gulls heading into the NCAA Tournament.
“I’ve played in a bunch of NCAA Tournament games, and this felt like one,” Wagner said. “It was down to the wire, and each play counted, each play was just as important as the next.”
Salisbury will be watching the NCAA selection show to hear if they have received an at-large bid to the tournament. The selection show begins Sunday at 9:30 p.m.
By NICK LEWIS
Featured photo: Senior Attack Gabby Mongno moves the ball down the field May 4 (Marshall Haas image).