SALISBURY, Md. – The Salisbury University field hockey team heads into the 2018 season this weekend looking to build off the program's 24th-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance with 18 returning players and eight new faces who are expected to contribute right away.
"We're really excited about this group," Head Coach Dawn Chamberlin said. "We have almost everybody back from last year, so that gives us a good foundation to build from. They're definitely excited and motivated for the season. We're looking forward to seeing how they progress and what they can do."
Of the 18 returning players, 12 played in at least a dozen games in 2017 as the Sea Gulls enter the new campaign with depth that is sure to allow significant playing time for nearly every player in maroon and gold.
Salisbury's leading scorer from 2017, Emily Lemanski returns for her senior season after scoring 10 times a year ago. Her mark ranked sixth in the Capital Athletic Conference.
Lemanski will be joined on the front line by junior Tara Daddio, who scored six goals and added six assists.
"We're really excited about Tara and the way she's come back this year," Chamberlin said. "She's been on fire and is really motivated. She's come in fit and very strong. We're excited to see what she's going to do up front."
Salisbury returns five of its six top goal scorers from a year ago, with junior Rachel Domanico in the mix at the forward position, off a five-goal season in 2017.
The depth at the forward and midfield positions, along with players that can span both positions, will give the coaching staff the opportunity to put different combinations together in both areas.
"We've got a lot of players that are on even footing right now. So I think we're going to see an opportunity for a lot of people to play," Chamberlin said. "We may run a few more lines at the forward and midfield so we can get a lot of people in and use everybody."
An area of the field with an abundance of depth is the midfield spot, led by junior Arielle Johnston, who will see significant time, but whether she plays on the outside or in the middle is still being determined.
"She was one of our leading strikers on corners, she has great skills, and she can carry the ball really well and distribute it well. We're looking for big things from her," Chamberlin said. "We're looking for her to be more of an offensive threat because she has such great stick skills and such an arsenal of shots. We're hoping to give her an opportunity to push up and play a little more in the forward line area."
Among the players expected to be part of the midfield rotation are sophomores Rebecca Lloyd, Meghan Jolikko, and Jenna Partilla along with newcomers Kate Melvin – a sophomore transfer – and freshmen Caroline Keniston and Tara Flavin.
An All-American in 2017 and the CAC Rookie of the Year in 2016, Jillian Hughes is expected to be the backbone of a strong defense during her junior season. Hughes and the Sea Gulls surrendered just 14 goals in 17 games last year.
"Jillian comes back fitter than ever and ready to go and we expect great things out of her," Chamberlin said. "She's definitely the anchor to our defense. She can run full field for us and we're looking forward to what she can do out there."
Sarah Jackson appeared in just seven games last season due to injury, but enters the season healthy and improved.
"She has come back ready to earn her spot back and she's rightfully doing that so far," Chamberlin said. "She's worked on some things we asked her to work on over the summer and she's doing a great job for us."
Lindsey Elgin and Camryn Dennis, who each played in at least 15 games in 2017, are expected to see significant playing time this year. Dennis scored five times on 19 shots during her rookie campaign last year.
With the graduation of Tressie Windsor, a three-year starter at goalkeeper, sophomore Domanique Farrace has earned the starting spot in the cage heading into 2018.
"She has really stepped up this year, we're very happy with what she's done in the preseason and in our first scrimmage," Chamberlin said. "I think she's really motivated, she knows she has some big shoes to fill and so far she's getting that done."
While the Sea Gulls' 2018 schedule features a number of familiar faces, the Salisbury schedule has always helped prime the team for the postseason. The Sea Gulls open play this Friday against Dickinson College at the Misericordia Invitational and will face four teams in the preseason top-20 in the nation this season.
"You can't be successful if you don't play a high level of competition and that's what we're doing. We're making sure that we're always playing at a high level and we're always being challenged. And that just makes us better," Chamberlin said.
The Sea Gulls will play their home opener on Saturday, September 15 when they host Cabrini University beginning at 6 p.m.
Looking for the program's 21st CAC championship, the conference tournament is slated to begin on October 28, culminating on November 3.