SU field hockey headed to national championship

The No. 1 Salisbury University field hockey team is headed back to the national championship weekend following a thrilling 1-0 win against Wellesley College on Sunday afternoon at Sea Gull Stadium.

“We’ve had pressure all season and for this team to be able to handle that pressure and come out on top and get through this weekend when we weren’t really playing as sharp as we can, that’s a sign of a good team and the resiliency and their persistence and they weren’t going to give up,” Head Coach Dawn Chamberlin said.

Salisbury (19-1) got a late goal from senior Summer Washburn to ensure the Sea Gulls would be one of the final four teams playing this season. The Sea Gulls will be making the program’s 13th national semifinal appearance when they take on Bowdoin College next week.

Sunday’s game was in doubt the entire way as strong play in the midfield and key defensive stops kept scoring chances at a premium.

There was no bigger defensive play for the Sea Gulls than one of the first half, just 15 minutes into the game when Nikki Sharkin took a rip from the left wing, aiming for the left side of the cage. The ball got to the end line, but junior back Breck Sullivan was there for her team-leading third defensive save of the year.

With just over 12 minutes left, Salisbury had a scoring chance as sophomore Abbey Shobe centered a ball just five yards in front of the cage. Junior Courtney Jantzen had a shot, but was met by the left pad of Wellesley goalkeeper Lucy Hurlock.

Sullivan came up with another big defensive play, just two minutes later, keeping the game scoreless, as Anissa Sridhar was dribbling through the Salisbury defense, but Sullivan stepped up for the stop, sending the Sea Gulls the other way.

Moments later, Washburn nearly got the first goal on the board, firing a cannon from the top of the circle off one-of-four first-half penalty corners for the Sea Gulls. Though she beat Hurlock, Neha Vellanki was standing in the way, for her own defensive save, deflecting the ball up and over the goal as the game would head to halftime scoreless.

The game remained tied at zero and in the closing minutes of the contest, Salisbury turned up the intensity and put added pressure on the Wellesley defense, attempting eight shots in the closing 15 minutes of the game.

A cross by Washburn to junior Samantha Johnson in front of the goal was stopped by Hurlock, but a Wellesley foul led to a Salisbury penalty corner. The Sea Gulls would get three successive corner tries and fire six shots, five of which were on target, but Hurlock stood tall.

The Wellesley goalkeeper stopped seven shots in the game, but Washburn was able to get the game winner through in the 61st minute. It was on Salisbury’s penultimate penalty corner of the match – one of nine on the day – when Johnson inserted to Washburn at the top of the circle. The senior’s strike had eyes for the back for the cage and found its way home for the one-goal lead.

“Summer’s just outstanding,” Chamberlin said. “She’s one of those players that we’re just going to truly miss out on the field after this season is over. She’s a player who can single-handedly turn a game around and she has a huge impact game after game.”

But the Salisbury defense and senior goalkeeper Rachel Clewer would be called upon to make the lead hold up in the final minute of play.

The Blue (19-3) had two penalty corners in the closing minute, with the first leading to a tipped shot by Nathalie Gruet, which Clewer was able to keep out of the cage for one of her two saves in the contest before a final penalty corner with no time on the clock.

Off the insert, Gruet sent the ball to the top of the circle for Meghan Peterson, whose final attempt was deflected and missed wide to the right, prompting the final whistle from the officials and sending the Sea Gulls to the championship weekend.

Salisbury now advances to the semifinal contest against Bowdoin, the squad that defeated the Sea Gulls in the national championship game in 2013. The game will take place at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia next Saturday, November 22.

“I’m overjoye,” Washburn said following the game. “Just happy to keeping playing, and be one step closer to the goal that we’ve had all season.”

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