SALISBURY, Md. – After reaching the national semifinals for the first time since 2014 last season, the Salisbury University women's lacrosse team looks to capture its 17th straight Capital Athletic Conference championship and make a return trip to the final four in the 2019 season.
"When we're looking at the 2019 season, we know it's a new journey for our team, but our expectations are the same," Head Coach Jim Nestor said. "We want to do well in the CAC and be prepared for the playoffs, and winning the conference would put us in a nice position before the NCAA tournament. The ultimate goal would be to get back to that final four and put ourselves in a position to be battling for the national championship."
One of the things Nestor is most looking forward to this season is seeing which players will step up and replace the production that was lost from last season, including three All-Americans.
"We graduated a lot of scoring power, but we feel we have a lot of veterans who can step up," Nestor said. "It is fun to watch the players meet that challenge and who can fill the holes."
Despite losing the top three point scorers to graduation, the Sea Gulls return several players with plenty of experience.
Up top, Courtney Fegan, Gabby Mongno, and Emma Skoglund all return with a wealth of experience from last season. Fegan was third on the team with 34 goals, while Mongno was just behind with 33. Skoglund, the reigning CAC Rookie of the Year, tallied 37 goals, which was good for second on the team.
"With that group returning, we do have a lot of experience on the offensive end that we feel they should be able to create a lot of scoring opportunities for us," Nestor said.
The midfield will be led by a trio of juniors in Holly Bowers, Taylor Poore, and Elaine Draper. Bowers and Poore appeared in all 23 games a season ago, combining for six starts. Poore was seventh on the team with 18 goals to go along with two assists.
Senior Ryan Schrader will take over the draw control role, with Nestor looking for big things from her this year, especially on the draw.
The Sea Gulls will be without junior Emily McQuay to start the season due to injury but hope to have her back in a few weeks. McQuay started 17 games last season, recording 15 goals and four assists.
Sophomore Bri Held will also join the mix in the midfield. "We're expecting a lot from her," Nestor said. "She's improving every single day at practice."
The Sea Gulls return every starter on defense from last year's team, and Nestor expects it to be a strength of the team this season.
Highlighting the group is IWLCA third-team All-American Martha Hutzell, who started and appeared in all 23 games.
A player that did not see a lot of time last season but had a great fall and is doing well so far, according to Nestor, is sophomore Kate Lamberti, who could find some time rotating in with the starters.
After losing All-American Gianna Falcone to graduation, junior Skye Graham will take over in goal. Graham appeared in 14 games last season, posting a 2-0 record with a 50.0 save percentage and 6.33 goals-against average.
"I would say Skye has the upper hand right now with her leadership and experience, but the other two are right there battling," Nestor said. "Each one brings their own different strengths to the crease and that's the part we still need to truly figure out, but Skye will be the starter."
The Sea Gulls once again have a challenging schedule lined up, with nine opponents ranked in the IWLCA preseason top 25. Of those nine teams, five are in the top 10 and eight are in the top 15.
"When you look at our schedule, I feel like it's really going to prepare us for the postseason, especially if we continue to improve every day and every game," Nestor said.
Three of the first four games of the season come against ranked opponents, all three of which are on the road.
The maroon and gold open conference play on Saturday, March 30 when they host No. 8 University of Mary Washington.
York College of Pennsylvania made it three CAC teams in the top 10, coming in at No. 6.
"The CAC is one of the top conferences in the country in women's lacrosse and we know we have to prepare every day and every game for a battle," Nestor said.
Salisbury begins the 2019 season on Saturday, February 16 when it hosts Stevenson University. The game is scheduled to start at 1 p.m.