SALISBURY, Md. – The No. 4 Salisbury University field hockey team enters the 2012 season looking to build off an impressive 2011 performance, in which the squad went 18-2 and captured the program's 16th Capital Athletic Conference title. Hall of Fame Head Coach Dawn Chamberlin enters her 26th season after graduating six starters last season, but after preseason, those spots have quickly been filled with experienced veterans and some new faces.
"We have 29 solid players and we are really excited about the options we will have," said Chamberlin. "I think we have more depth than we've ever had. Hopefully we will be able to give everyone the opportunity to show their stuff."
With a new season, new team and new talent comes a new style of play from the Sea Gulls this year. The forward line will see the most change in play for Salisbury this season.
Salisbury's offense returns only one starter from 2011, in senior Erica Henderson. In 2011, Henderson was second in scoring for the Gulls with 16 goals. "Erica is coming off a great season last year and so far in preseason has racked up a lot of goals," noted Chamberlin.
The forward line will see experienced play from senior Melissa Slocum and junior Rebecca Hasz, who each picked up valuable playing time last year. The duo will get the start in 2012, and with their speed, will be looked to spark offensive transitions.
New to the line is junior transfer Mallory Elliott. Elliott, the sister of former two-time All-Americans Lindsey Elliott and Brittany Elliott, jumps right in where her sisters left off on the forward line. The Delmar, Del., native brings finesse, great stick work and an eye for distributing and passing the ball in the circle to put herself and others in scoring position.
"We are very fortunate to have a lot of strong forwards. We have the opportunity to play some lines, giving us the chance to play some different people and give others a breather," said Chamberlin. "So far they are excited about this style of play because they know they can go 'all out' and go with a lot of intensity for a certain amount of time, and then they'll get a breather before going back in."
Other Sea Gulls on attack include returning sophomore Karen Cindea, along with freshmen Samantha Johnson, Jessica Crew, Courtney Jantzen, Cassie O'Connor, and junior transfers Bernice Jere and Leigh Willing.
"Karen, she just had a great spring and is outstanding," said Chamberlin. " She is going to get a lot of playing time this year and we are expecting some really strong plays to come out of her."
The trio possesses the ability to move the ball quickly up the field and should be considered a scoring threat by their opponents. With 17 goals and 12 assists last season, the three seasoned midfielders will be relied upon to distribute the ball, create scoring opportunities and, of course, score, for the maroon and gold.
After losing all but one defender last season, the well-known dominant Salisbury defense will be young, but their ability to keep teams from scoring will be no different than in years past. Senior Amber Holland is the only returning defender for Salisbury in 2012.
"In the back field we have a lot of holes to fill. Amber is our returning back so we are looking at her to anchor the back field for us," said Chamberlin. "She is an outstanding player. She sees the plays developing very quickly and puts herself at the right place at the right time, so we are very fortunate to have her back there with such a young defense."
Junior Katie Hastings will be stepping into the starting line-up after playing in 10 games last year.
The Gulls have not solidified who will tie up the loose ends on the defensive side but are looking at three freshmen to fill the gap.
"We have quite a few options right now. We have a couple of freshmen who have really stepped up and we are liking what we are seeing out of them," said Chamberlin. "We are looking at Breck Sullivan, Amanda Cooper, and Gabriella Fazio. All three right now bring something different to the table and all three are freshmen, so when we open up on Friday it will be whoever we feel has the most composure and can step into that position."
Sophomore Rachel Clewer may have only stepped into a few games in 2011, but she was able to practice every day of her freshman season against the nation's third-best scoring offense. With this talent at her disposal and Clewer's strong presence in the goal, the sophomore is well-prepared for her starting debut in 2012.
"Despite Clewer's lack of starting time last season, she had the opportunity to train side-by-side with Anna Cooke, who was the national leader in goals against average last year (0.53)," said Chamberlin. "Clewer also played every day of her freshman season against one of the most prolific scoring offenses in the county in 2011."
With some new rules in effect, Clewer's job has gotten a bit tougher as now a player can score anywhere on the field as long as someone has touched the ball within the circle before it lands in the back of the cage. This means that now a defender or the goalkeeper could tip the ball into the cage accidently, without it first touching an offensive stick, and the goal counts.
"There are certainly going to be some differences this year from last year with the new rule changes, one of the biggest differences being that you can basically score from anywhere," said Chamberlin. "We will also see some more raised balls, as you can now raise the ball directly off a self-start or free hit."
Clewer's size and strength in the goal will be a determining factor in not allowing these rule changes to affect the Gulls.
The Sea Gulls' schedule is not to be taken lightly, with the defending 2011 National Champions on the schedule in No. 1 The College of New Jersey, along with No. 5 Messiah College, No. 11 Catholic University of America and No. 18 Rowan University.
"We have a very tough schedule," said Chamberlin. "We play a tough schedule every year because if you want to be the best, you've got to play the best. We are not going to get better by playing teams who are not strong. We have to be challenged day in, day out if we want to finish strong at the end."
Salisbury will open play on Friday, Aug. 31, against Wittenberg University at the Wilkes Invitational, a two-day tournament. Game time is set for 5:30 p.m.
SU will open up at home against No. 17 Christopher Newport University on Thursday, Sept. 6, at 6 p.m.