SALISBURY, Md. – Salisbury University Field Hockey Head Coach Dawn Chamberlin has never had a problem starting the younger players on her roster. The best 11 will be on the field, whether they are playing in their first collegiate game or playing their fourth season.
Chamberlin will have no choice but to rely on some younger talent in 2017, with 16 of the 23 players on her roster entering the season at freshman or sophomore athletic status.
The returning players and the veteran coaching staff will instill upon the newcomers the history of the program and the expectations for the perennial NCAA tournament contender.
"There's a lot of history and tradition and we'd like to build off of that," Chamberlin said. "We talk about what your legacy is going to be. 'This is what they did last year, and this is what we've done prior to that. What would you like to do? What do you want your legacy to be here?'"
The Sea Gulls return four seniors to the 2017 squad, with three of them expected to see most of their time up front, led by Natalie Wilkinson. The three-year contributor and starter in 2016, where she scored 13 times, has been a catalyst for the offense and last season made a move to the left side where Chamberlin sees her fitting in again this year.
"We think that the left side is going to be her home and she'll really be a threat from that position," Chamberlin said. "With a lot of new faces on the line, she's going to have to really step it up and set a good example for them."
Also key on penalty corners, Wilkinson will again be the primary player to insert on those opportunities, leading to six assists last season.
Joining the senior trio on the front line, Chamberlin is expecting junior Emily Lemanski to play the right side, opposite Wilkinson, playing a big role in advancing the ball up the field with her strength and skill.
Sophomore Arielle Johnston is one of two returners among the field players who started all 20 games last season, and will control the midfield from the left side.
"She's worked really hard over the summer to get more fit for that position because it requires a lot of running," Chamberlin said. "She really honed her skills in the offseason and she's picked up right where she left off."
Johnston will contribute all over the field, having scoring four times last season, including the game-winning goal that sent Salisbury to the NCAA semifinals in a 1-0 victory over Ursinus College.
Freshman Jenna Partilla will contribute right away in a central midfield position, coming in with strong stick skills and athleticism to get up and down the field. While helping on the defensive end, she's also expected to contribute with goal scoring on the offensive end.
Junior Emma Vicchio played in 19 games last year, and will see time both in the midfield and on defense in 2017.
Reigning Capital Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year Jillian Hughes will lead the young defensive unit into the 2017 season. She started all 20 games, helping the Salisbury defense to the lowest team goals-against average in the nation, allowing just 0.55 goals per game.
"She's the hub of our field defense," Chamberlin said. "She's going to have to be the quarterback out there and run the show. Jillian has the most experience and she's going to be flanked by freshmen and sophomores. We're really going to have to count on her for her leadership on and off the field and she's going to set the bar high with her play and her expectations of what her teammates will do around her."
"They've had a good preseason, both have come back fit, they worked hard over the summer and we like what we're seeing out of them so far," Chamberlin said. "We think they've got a good shot of stepping up and the three of them together should make a solid, defensive unit back there."
Tressie Windsor, the fourth senior returning, will anchor the defensive side of the field with her third year starting in the goal. Windsor started every game and was a second-team All-CAC selection in 2016 while leading the nation in goals-against average, with a mark of 0.57, and was 12th in save percentage, turning away 81 percent of shots she faced.
"Tressie has been phenomenal not only in her leadership qualities, but her preparation," Chamberlin said. "She's back, she's ready, she's got great enthusiasm and she's doing everything that she possibly can to help this young team come together. We're very fortunate to have her leadership back there and also her experience in the goal."
The Sea Gulls kick off the 2017 season on September 1 and 2 at the Misericordia Tournament, taking on King's (Pa.) College on Friday and the host Cougars on Saturday.
After kicking off the home slate of games by hosting Stevenson University on Wednesday, September 6, Salisbury will host the defending national champions from No. 1 Messiah College on Saturday, September 9 in their first game against a team nationally ranked to begin the season.
The Sea Gulls will begin the defense of the program's 20th CAC championship when they head to Christopher Newport University on September 30.
The postseason begins with the conference tournament kicking off on October 29 and the ultimate goal the national championship game in Louisville, Kentucky on November 19.