GETTYSBURG, Pa. – In 2012, the Salisbury University women's lacrosse team suffered its only loss of the season to Trinity (Conn.) College in the national championship game. Last season, the Sea Gulls remained determined and proved that redemption is sweeter than vengeance with a 12-5 victory over the Bantams.
This year, the women wanted to establish a legacy of success at Salisbury, and they did just that by claiming the national title for the second-consecutive year, and the third in five seasons. Meeting up with Trinity for the third-straight season in the title game, the Sea Gulls took control after the first whistle and never looked back, downing the Bantams, 9-6, to be crowned the 2014 NCAA Division III national champions.
Head Coach Jim Nestor mentioned in the postgame press conference after the semifinal victory over Amherst that his team was gelling at the right time. The Sea Gulls (23-1) proved just that throughout the entirety of Sunday's game. Off the opening draw, the Bantams (19-3) had the first opportunity of the game driving to goal and firing a shot on senior goalkeeper Ashton Wheatley, but the Cambridge, Md., native swung her stick and turned away the attempt.
The defense, as a unit, only allowed six shots, two on goal, for the first half, which kept the Bantams off the board going into the break.
"I think we played a great first half and the defense was spectacular," Nestor said. "We really played well."
With the strength of the defense, the gelling Nestor talked about carried into the offense the first half. Senior Shannon Carta rolled around the backside of the crease heading right with eyes on the middle of the eight-meter fan. A split second later, sophomore Megan Wallenhorst dove down the middle catching the pass from Carta and firing it past Bantam goalkeeper Emily Mooney.
Carta followed up with another helper on the next goal, three minutes later, as junior Shelby Nemecek took her usual route, diving down the middle of the fan, catching the high pass, and firing it top shelf to give the Sea Gulls a 2-0 lead.
Junior Kate Haker finished up the half with three-consecutive goals to give Salisbury a 5-0 lead at the break. The Westminster, Md., native capitalized on two free-position shots, while catching a pass from Carta over the top of the cage to finish for her third. Carta concluded the game with a career-high four assists to end an incredible senior season.
Trinity worked on a comeback at the start of the second half, scoring twice in the opening minutes, but Haker and Nemecek halted any attempt for the Bantams to draw the score closer by sparking a four-goal run. Haker floated around the back, right side of the goal waiting for a teammate to make a cut. Nemecek found an opening, slipped down the eight-meter fan, and quick sticked a high pass from Haker into the back of the net.
Trinity made the game interesting in the closing minutes, scoring four times, three of which were free-position shots. With the score 9-6, the possession remained Salisbury's in the final two minutes. To complete the season in a consistent manner, the offense worked the ball back to Wheatley who ran the clock out in her final game as a Sea Gull.
"It was a flashback from last year," said Wheatley about running around the field with the ball as the final seconds ticked away. "It's an amazing feeling because they all want to toss it back and everyone comes running. It was awesome!"
The senior captain has become one of the most decorated women's lacrosse players in program history, finishing her career with 66 wins and 412 saves, while being named to the All-Tournament team for the third-straight year. Wheatley finished the national championship game with four saves and tied game highs in caused turnovers and groundballs with two apiece.
"The seniors had a 'senior meeting' before the semifinal game and said that this is it for us, we are going to walk off the field and that's the last time we are going to play lacrosse," Wheatley said. "What better way to leave your senior year than with back-to-back championships, something that has never been done before and uphold that Salisbury legacy that is so important to us."
"I always wanted to be in this position because I can't say that I'm the best," Baer said. "It's all the girls on the team, even the girls on the bench. I feel like everyone should get that award on the team."
The junior captain concluded the tournament with 14 goals and three assists for 17 points through five games, while winning 21 draw controls, scooping 13 groundballs and causing five turnovers.
The Toomey sisters both caused one turnover and scooped one loose ball in the final game of the season, while helping the Sea Gull backline only allow six goals by an offense that averaged 11.45 per game this season. Haker concluded the game with a game-high three goals and an assist for four points.
The 2014 title is third in program history (2010, '13) and Salisbury University's 18th team championship.