May 20, 2010

Salisbury Still Searching for Elusive Title

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Jess Glazer (above) and Salisbury have been the most consistent team in Division III since 2005, but the Sea Gulls just can't win the Big One. Is this the year?
© Salisbury Sports Info

We know that Northwestern is the best collegiate women’s lacrosse team of the last half-decade, but you’d have to look down a couple of divisions in order to find the second most successful program since 2005.

It’s Salisbury, with its gaudy 116-9 record and five appearances in the semifinals or better over the six-year span, including this year’s trip to the national semifinals.

So far, anyway.

But while the Wildcats have racked up five consecutive national titles over that period and are eyeing a sixth, the Sea Gulls have been doomed to a series of near misses, forcing them to continue the quest for their first Walnut & Bronze trophy.

Could it just be a series of unlucky bounces?

“They were lucky bounces for one team, just not us,” laughed Salisbury head coach Jim Nestor.

It’s good that Nestor can brush off the past setbacks because they have been excruciating.

There’s the 9-7 loss to TCNJ in the finals in 2005. Then the 6-5 loss to the Lions in the 2006 quarterfinals. There’s the 11-8 defeat at the hands of Franklin & Marshall in the ’07 finals and again in 2009, 11-10 in overtime. And Hamilton knocked off the Gulls in ’08, 11-10.

Each of those years, the team that knocked out Salisbury went on to win the national title. It likely makes it somewhat easier to swallow knowing it was the eventual champions that did the deed, but when does Salisbury get it’s chance to return the favor?

“We’ve had some injuries a couple of times, but it just seems like we make a couple of mistakes in the big games that cost us,” said Nestor.

Injuries definitely took their toll last year. The Gulls lost both Kim Cudmore and Jessica Chmielewski – a pair of seniors who combined for 65 goals and 74 assists this spring – for the entire second half of the ‘09 season after lower leg maladies. Considering the 139 points between them this year, one would assume they might have been the difference in a one-goal, overtime loss.

This year, the Gulls are completely healthy, but Salisbury was stale heading into the tournament. Because of a scheduling snafu in the fall that didn’t allow them line up a scrimmage, Nestor’s squad had a 23-day gap between the time the Sea Gulls finished up their CAC tournament on April 23 and their first NCAA tournament game against Catholic on May 15.

It’s certainly not the optimum circumstance, but the Gulls have handled it as well as possible. They routed a petulant Catholic team, 18-9 and followed that up a day later with a 12-7 triumph over TCNJ in the quarterfinals, avenging Salisbury’s only loss of the season.

Salisbury has managed to navigate the perilous parts of the tournament and are now back into the realm in which they are used to, but also the arena in which the Gulls find most of their heartbreak.

First on the docket is Gettysburg, which, by the generous nature of the NCAA, will be hosting the national semifinals and finals on its own field. The two teams didn’t meet this year, although it was Salisbury that ousted the Bullets in the national semifinals last year by the score of – you guessed it – 11-10.

Gettysburg lost to Franklin & Marshall in the Centennial finals – dropping the team to 16-3 and raising questions about whether it was worthy of a regional seed. The Bullets, however, have quickly answered all of those questions. Gettysburg crushed a pair of Top 11 teams in Babson (No. 11) and Trinity (8) by a combined score of 35-8 heading into the clash with Salisbury.

Even though they are forced to play a road game as the higher seed, Nestor can’t worry about that stuff. He has five years of history to overcome first.

“We’re playing well right now,” he said. “We’ll have to see whether that is enough this weekend.”

If it’s any consolation, the Gulls are due.

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