May 30, 2014

Salisbury Fuels Another Title Run on '12 Dissappointment

by Mark Macyk | | Twitter

Salisbury celebrates its second straight NCAA finals win over Trinity - a win that Sea Gull players still attribute some motivation to from the 2012 finals loss to the Bantams. (Scott McCall)

Salisbury spent 2013 focused only on redemption and rode that mantra all the way to an NCAA championship. For a follow-up, the Sea Gulls decided to do the exact same thing.

It turns out that 2013 didn’t wipe the memory of 2012 completely from the minds of the SU women’s lacrosse team. The Sea Gulls were not going to be satisfied until they beat Trinity one more time. Which they did, 9-6, in the NCAA championship game on Sunday, for their third title in five years, and second straight over Trinity.

“Only half of our team was there when we lost to Trinity in 2012,”  said senior defender Meghan Toomey. “For me, that game still hurts. Seeing how upset our seniors were. The game was still personal. I hadn’t gotten my full redemption. It was kind of like, ‘All right, now I can graduate.’”

Kate Haker had three goals and two assists, Shelby Nemecek and NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Bethany Baer each added two goals, Ashton Wheatley made four saves and Toomey and the SU defense held Trinity scoreless for the entire first half.

Now, not only does half of Salisbury’s team not know what it’s like to lose Trinity, half the team also has never ended the season without a National Championship. It’s something the upperclassman, who remember the heartbreak of 2012 bring up.

“We always reiterate to them that this is great, but there were a lot people before you that suffered to make the program what it is,” Toomey said. “They’re getting the rewards of it. We always want to remind them to remember the feeling. You don’t ever want to feel that.”

Which they really haven’t. SU has lost just once since that 2012 title game. During that time, the Sea Gulls have defeated Trinity, which befuddled them with its backer zone in 2012, three times.

There’s a reason for that success. While Salisbury plays a straight man-to-man defense, they’ve made certain to work in the zone during practices to keep the offense ready for it.

“They’ve been doing the same defense since sophomore year,” Toomey said. “So ever since, we’ve incorporated the backer. We don’t necessarily need to use it, we just use it in practice, the same way the offense preps us for different offenses. In the past we’ve learned some crazy defenses to try and replicate them. It’s a lot of information to retain. I applaud our defense for that. We're practicing another team’s defense, then we have to flip around and play our own the next day.”

Goalie Ashton Wheatley gets a ton of deserved credit for her dynamic work in the cage, as does the Sea Gulls high-flying offense, but it’s SU’s rotating six-person defense -- Meghan Toomey, Allison Toomey, Dominique DiPino, Laura Maskell, Anna Sparr and Kieran Kelleher -- that carried the playoff run. They were the first unit all year to hold Trinity scoreless in the first half.

The defense is an old school bunch. Facing Amherst in the semifinals was personal. The Lord Jeffs entered the Final Four with the country’s No. 1 ranked defense, which didn’t sit well with the Gulls. They believed they were the country’s No. 1 defense.

Salisbury proved just that, and held the Lord Jeffs to four goals. The offense scored 10 and knocked Amherst to the No. 2 spot. (Which statistically now belongs to Keuka, but still.)

Meghan Toomey, Sparr (who won the Elite 89 Award as the player with the highest GPA at the Final Four), and Wheatley (who graduates with a 66-2 record as a starter) will leave next year, but the defense should stay in good shape. It’s a unit where no one player stands out. And like their freewheeling goalie, the defense sometimes wishes it could be on the other side.

“If coach put us all out on offense we would have a blast,” Toomey said. “We’re always asking the offense, ‘Why don’t you celebrate more?’ Every time something good happens on defense when Laura gets a block, we’re screaming, we’re feeding off each other.”

They celebrated extensively when the champioship game was over. The final game brought a matchup of the same two teams from the past three seasons, but it was a little different this time. The Sea Gulls graduated a ton of talent last year. A return to the Final Four did not seem like a guarentee.

For Toomey, who originally came to Salisbury expecting to stay for a semester and transfer, it still hadn’t set in, two days after the championship game.

“I’m still in shock,” she said. “We had to find a new identity. Our journey was all over the place. I’m so proud of the way every person was able to step up. I can’t believe we did it. It’s every girls’ dream." Thens she paused and corrected herself. "Every lacrosse girls’ dream.”

Back to Gettysburg

Salisbury won its third title against the same team it beat for its second title at the school where it won its first title.

There’s a photo of the 2011 championship team at Gettysburg hanging up on campus. Now the 2014 team has one to match it. The Sea Gulls visited the battlefield this weekend and took a photo in front of the Maryland statue.

Everywhere you looked that afternoon were people in Salisbury gear.

“It’s funny,” Toomey said. “It’s all this open land and then clusters of people everywhere in maroon shirts. Everyone’s taking pictures sitting on the cannons. It was a cool atmosphere.”

Salisbury’s Sister Act

First it was the Ackermanns. Then it was the Wheatleys. Then the Baers, split across the men’s and women’s team. Now the Toomeys. Next year it will be the Talberts.

At Salisbury, winning continues to be a family affair. Often all it takes is one visit from a younger sister to realize the Salisbury Way is for her.

“It’s just like a domino effect," Toomey said. "We just keep on reloading that sister bond I guess.”

It's not just siblings. Toomey’s father is an SU alum. Toomey didn’t know whether she’d stay at Salisbury at first, but, two years later, when it came time for her younger sister Allison to choose college she wasn't the only one giving the sales pitch.

“At that point my dad was hooked,” Toomey said. “He was obsessed with Salisbury lacrosse.

Toomey said she gets protective of her sister on the field, but that extends to the whole team, really. At Salisbury, you don’t have to be blood to be family.

“If there’s any situation where she’s getting beat up, I’m like ‘That’s my sister!’” Toomey said. “I want to have her back. If she’s ever in trouble on the field, I’m going to be there. Overall it’s how the defense looks in general. We’re like a big group of sisters. It’s a Sister Act kind of thing.”

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