May 25, 2014

Salisbury and Trinity Will Meet Again in D-III Final

by Erin Harty | | Twitter | May Madness Home

Cortland led early, but Trinity rallied to topple the previously unbeaten Red Dragons to open Saturday's semifinals. (Brian Schneider)

Trinity 8, Cortland 7: Blog Replay/Recap | Gallery

Salisbury 8, Amherst 4: Blog Replay/Recap | Gallery

The stage is set for today's NCAA Division III women's final at Gettysburg College, and the cast of characters will look awfully familiar. For the third year in a row, Trinity College will face Salisbury University for the title.

In last year's contest, Salisbury was the victor. But in 2012, Trinity won. Salisbury finished the 2014 season ranked No. 2 with a 21-1 record. Trinity is ranked No. 3 and collected a 15-2 record this year. The teams did meet once this year, in March at the National Training Center in Clermont, Florida, and Salisbury won 11-8.

"I think it's going to be a great game," Salisbury coach Jim Nestor said of tomorrow's final. "They know us, we know them... I think both teams are going to be out there playing smart, and I think it's going to come down to draw control and who takes care of the ball a little bit better.

"I look forward to a really exciting game.The way we're playing right now, we're really jelling. We're jelling at the right time," Nestor added.

Salisbury graduated six members of its 2013 championship team, including two All-Americans, and at the beginning of the 2014 season, Nestor told his team that they needed to forge their own, new identity, making their own success instead of riding on the coattails of previous teams.

The attack trio of junior Shelby Nemecek, junior Kate Haker, and particularly senior Shannon Carta took that advice seriously. "We've had the talk where we know we have to step up. Being seniors too, it's more meaningful and it's more passion to step in and play that role," said Carta. "We want to prove to Coach, and we want to prove to everybody else that even though we lost the people that we did last year, we're just as good as we were."

The team's fifth-ranked defense, led by senior goalie Ashton Wheatley, has also continued to build upon the success of their 2013 campaign. Wheatley is a three-time All-American and is one of two Division III players to be placed on the prestigious Tewaaraton Watch List this season.

"I think we really made a statement today. We were going up against the number 1 defense, but I think we showed we worked just as hard today," said Wheatley.

"We know Trinity's tendencies, they know our tendencies. When it gets to the championship game it comes down to who's going to work the hardest and who's going to have heart all the way through," said Carta.

This will be Salisbury's seventh trip to the championship game, having previously won the title twice. Trinity earned their very first championship berth in 2012, when they defeated Salisbury for the title. They suffered a pair of early losses this season, but then rattled off 14 victories in a row to earn their Final Four berth, and were the only one of the four teams who didn't host a quarterfinal. (They visited and defeated Gettysburg on May 18 to punch their semifinals ticket.)

Salisbury earned its way into today's final with a 8-4 win over Amherst. (Brian Schneider)

Trinity has only seven players remaining from their 2012 championship squad, and lost eight seniors after their runner-up finish in 2013. But their unconventional backer zone defense and a number of exciting and talented young players have kept them in the thick of contention all season.

As the victor in the early semifinal game, Trinity had to wait and watch to see who their finals opponent would be. Goalie Emily Mooney, a sophomore, took a zen approach to considering potential matchups: "These games are about us. Although we need to be mindful of who we're playing, if we play within ourselves, it doesn't matter who the opponent is."

Trinity's 8-7 victory over Cortland State in the early semifinal game marked a third year of disappointment for head coach Kathy Taylor's squad at the hands of the Bantams. "The team that won didn't want it more than us, they just executed a little bit better than us today," Taylor said. "For some reason on this bigger stage when we face Trinity, that zone [defense] puts our offensive players to a little bit of a doubting place. We don't take as many shots as we need to. If we had taken a few more shots, I think the game may have been a little bit different."

The teams were evenly matched in the first half, trading goals back and forth and heading to the locker room with Cortland ahead, 5-4. But on the first possession in the second half, Trinity's Renee Olsen scored to tie the game. "We didn't take care of the ball like we needed to in the first part of the second half. I think that's where the game slipped away for us," Taylor said.

Trinity scored four unanswered points and was up 8-5 with 9 minutes to play. Cortland battled back with goals from Erica Geremia and Marilyn Farrell, pulling within 1 with 1:21 left. Geremina had a chance to tie with a free-position shot with 36 seconds left on the clock, but Mooney made the save and ended the game.

"It was a battle; we expected it to be," said Trinity head coach Kate Livesay. "We know they like to assist on goals. so a big focus for us was pressuring out on ball and protecting the 8 meter and being out on cutters. We did a really great job of executing on that point; our attention to detail in the 8 meter was excellent today."

Of the save that ended the game and preserved the victory, Mooney said it was an example of the team's desire to play in the moment. "I think in times like that, that was me playing outside of myself. It wasn't about me, it was just about our team moving on. So I really had to be in the zone, and I think I found that in that last shot."

The afternoon game between Salisbury and Amherst was a bit more of a lopsided affair, with Salisbury leading 3-2 at halftime and then pulling steadily away through the second half to finish with a 8-4 margin.

Amherst was hampered by the loss of one of their top defensive players, Kerry Fusco, who crumpled to the turf clutching her left knee midway through the first half and did not return. Coach Christine Paradis admitted that the Lord Jeffs had a difficult time containing Salisbury's attackers. "We definitely could have played better. It's always a question of, did we play poorly, or did Salisbury make us play poorly? It's hard to answer that," Paradis said.

Kate Haker scored 3 goals for Salisbury, leading a balanced scoring attack that brought points from five different players. "Before the game, I just told myself whatever happens happens, and I'm just going to work as hard as I can. It was even better having the flow of our offense, we just had it going. We were working off of each other and it set up a lot of opportunities for everyone."

"It was a great game," coach Nestor said. "When you look at the stats and see how balanced the game was and going back and forth, I just really thought we did a great job creating and finishing our opportunities. It was just a really exciting game."

Salisbury and Trinity will play for the national championship at 2:30 PM Sunday at Gettysburg College's Clark Field.

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