Speed, depth to be keys for field hockey in 2013
SALISBURY, Md. – When watching a Salisbury University field hockey game in 2013, don't blink, you might just miss it.
The Sea Gulls have always played an up-tempo style, getting quickly up and down the field, but with a team with young, now experienced talent, and a number of newcomers who are expected to step in and make an immediate impact, Salisbury may just turn up the pace a little more.
"We definitely play an upbeat style, we like to run and because we have depth this year we're going to be able to run hard and give our players breathers," Head Coach Dawn Chamberlin said. "It's really going contribute to the style of play that we have."
Just four seniors graduated from the team which finished last season 15-3, including a trip to the NCAA tournament. But closing the season with back-to-back losses – in the Capital Athletic Conference semifinals and the NCAA tournament second round – the Gulls enter this year feeling as though they've left something on the table.
"We constantly remind each other that we don't want to have our season end the way it did," Chamberlin said. "We've had two seasons in a row where we did not play our final game as well as we could have and ended up being eliminated. That's certainly not the way we want to go this year. Our senior class is very strong, they're very excited and they want to be contenders and they want to make sure that they are doing everything that they can to bring everyone else along and really have no regrets."
One of the four graduates from last season is Erica Henderson, who led the Gulls with 16 goals on the year, with the next closest goal scorer finding the back of the cage nine times. But Henderson's tally may not be replaced by just one player, but a host of them.
Last year, 10 players scored at least three goals and depth on the offensive end will be key as opponents will not be able to focus on any one player.
"We have a lot of goal scorers," Chamberlin said. "We're not going to have one person or two people that are going to be doing all the goal scoring. We have a lot of capability there and a lot of young capability there, along with the veterans. They're hungry to put the ball in the back of the net."
Senior Emily Voshell and junior Mallory Elliott will lead the way as returners from last season. Each player started all 18 games, though Voshell will be moving up from the midfield this season. The Viola, Del., native scored five goals and added five assists while Elliott will anchor the right side of the front line, having scored seven goals as a sophomore.
"After sitting out for a couple years, she's really coming into her own now and is going to be very strong for us," Chamberlin said of Elliott.
"We have another whole line that can come in and do equally well. We have the depth to run a lot of forwards," Chamberlin said.
"She had a phenomenal preseason and she's picked up right where she left off last season," Chamberlin said of Seay. "Last year was her first really starting for us and she's gotten even better."
Senior Katie Hastings spent 2012 in the defensive end, recording six defensive saves, but she has played in the midfield for much of the preseason, where she's expected to begin the year.
Senior Stacey Lamboni is a player with a strong shot, who will spend time primarily in the midfield, but can make the move up to the front line, if needed for added scoring punch.
Lamboni may be a player that brings some added options to penalty corner opportunities.
"At any given time, we can have five players up on the corner that can strike hard and fast and score goals," Chamberlin said. "We're going to be very dangerous in that aspect."
While Hastings could still see some time in the back, young experience will lead the way. Amanda Cooper started 15 games as freshman last year and will hold down the spot on the left side of the defense and will be joined by classmate Breck Sullivan who played in seven games, starting four of them.
"She has a wonderful game sense for a freshman and it's unbelievable her position out on the field," Chamberlin said. "To be so young and learn so quickly, she's going to get some playing time."
Despite the youth, Chamberlin is excited with the quality of the players in the final third of the field.
"Depth in the backfield, it's something that we haven't had in the past and we have speed," Chamberlin said. "We are fast from end-to-end. Our backs are super quick and we're going to be able to move the ball."
Both players have impressed in the preseason and scrimmages, but Clewer will begin at the top of the depth chart, having started all 18 games and played 95 percent of Salisbury's goalkeeper minutes in 2012; Her 1.22 goals-allowed average ranked 15th in all of Division III.
Always one of the toughest schedules in the nation, it remains that way in 2013. Salisbury is slated to take on five teams ranked in the NFHCA preseason poll, including non-conference tilts against No. 8 Messiah College, No.12 The College of New Jersey and No. 14 Rowan University.
"We try to schedule the top teams in the country," Chamberlin said. "We've got Messiah, we've got Rowan, we've got The College of New Jersey, so we're playing all the big guns. To me, that's important. You cannot expect to compete at the national level if you're not playing the nationally-ranked teams during your regular season. You need to know what to prepare for and that's what we do."
The addition of Christopher Newport University to the Capital Athletic Conference, along with the always difficult roster of teams, makes the CAC one of the more competitive leagues in the country.
"We don't get to relax, and as long as we can get the players to understand that there's no easy game then we're going to be OK," Chamberlin said of the CAC. "What's changing now, with the automatic bids, there are not a lot of at-large bids, so we've got to win our conference and we've talked to the team about that. We don't need to set our sights on anything but winning our conference, because if we don't do that, there's a good possibility we might not move forward."
After this weekend's tournament at Wilkes University, Salisbury will return home to host the SU Invitational at Sea Gull Stadium, beginning on Saturday, Sept. 7.