MONTCLAIR, N.J. – The No. 1 Salisbury University women's lacrosse team, trying to cap off an undefeated run, fell short of that goal with an 8-7 loss against Trinity (Conn.) College Sunday afternoon. The Sea Gulls were trying to become the first team in the program's 40-year history to finish off the season undefeated and bring a second national championship back to the Eastern Shore.
Salisbury (22-1) got off to the slowest start of any game this season, not getting on the scoreboard until the second half. The first half was the only period this season where the Sea Gulls did not get on the board. The Sea Gulls battled back to take the lead but Trinity pulled out the win for the program's first national title.
"We struggled in the first half but the team came back," Head Coach Jim Nestor said. "Trinity is a tough team but I'm proud of the way we battled back."
Trinity (21-1) used a strategy that the Sea Gulls have seen in the past few games, where the Salisbury opponent attempts to control the time of possession, not allowing the Sea Gull attack to get in rhythm.
"Things didn't open up on the offensive end for us in the first half and when they did, Trinity closed things up quickly," Nestor said.
Kaitlin Hildebrand gave the Bantams the lead with an unassisted goal 12 minutes into the contest. Before that tally, Trinity kept the ball in their offensive third, content to pass the ball around and be patient. An opportunity opened up for Hildebrand to score when sophomore goalkeeper Ashton Wheatley came out of the cage trying to intercept a pass and the goal was left unattended. Hildebrand capitalized on that chance to give Trinity a 1-0 lead.
Trinity was able to score 7:13 later on a free position shot that Wheatley seemed to stop before the ball squirted over the goal line. After goals with 7:12 and 4:55 remaining in the first half, Salisbury found itself facing its biggest deficit of the year, down 4-0.
Junior Kara Koolage nearly got the Sea Gulls on the board with 4:19 left in the first half but her shot hit the post and bounced away. That was the first true scoring chance that the Sea Gulls had all half and went into the break down four. This was only the second time all season that Salisbury trailed at halftime.
The championship game was a contest of scoring runs and Salisbury started its major run at the outset of the second half. Senior Alyssa Fowler got the Sea Gulls on the board 48 seconds after halftime on an unassisted goal. Freshman Bethany Baer netted Salisbury's second goal with 22:06 left in the contest, the first of her team-high three goals in the contest. Less than a minute later, junior Lauren Feusahrens netted her first goal of the game to bring the Trinity lead to one goal. Two minutes later, Feusahrens netted her second goal to tie it at 4-4.
With momentum on their side, the Sea Gulls were able to take their only lead of the game with 17:11 remaining in the game on a goal by senior Amanda Holsclaw to cap a 5-0 Salisbury run. The lead was short lived however, as Hildebrand scored the second of her team-high three goals. That was the first goal of a 4-0 Bantam run that gave them an 8-5 lead with 9:40 remaining in the game.
Baer was able to add two goals down the stretch but the comeback fell short. The Sea Gulls had a last gasp chance from 50 yards out, as Feusahrens was fouled with three seconds left on the game clock. The Trinity goalie was away from the net when the foul was committed, so Feusahrens had an open net in front of her. Her desperation heave fell short and Trinity had claimed its first national championship.
This was the last game for a five-member senior class which had advanced to the final weekend three of the four years at Salisbury, including taking home the 2010 national championship. Classmates Fowler, Holsclaw, Allie Wheatley, Mackenzie White and Carrie Bray finish their careers at Salisbury with a record of 82-7.
"This has been an incredible four years," Wheatley said. "This team has come so far this year. This was so different from 2010, when I was a sophomore. It was all still new then. I have no regrets about anything this year and this was just an incredible run this year."
While this loss certainly hurts, the future is bright for the Sea Gulls, who fully expect to be back again next year at Montclair State University, which will host next year's Division III women's lacrosse final four.
"We're returning a lot of scoring and all the defense except Mackenzie," Assistant Coach Liz Filgueras said. "It's tough to keep it in perspective right now, but we'll be okay and be back next year."