With its first two games, the Division III national champion Salisbury women's lacrosse team picked up where it left off, extending its winning streak to 25 games.
The No. 1 Sea Gulls won their opener, 17-2, over Roanoke and then needed a jolt from veteran goalie Ashton Wheatley to eke out a road win at No. 19 Stevenson, 8-6, on Saturday.
"We're still trying to find our identity for this team,” Sea Gulls coach Jim Nestor said, “because I think defensively we're where we were last year. It's more on the offensive side where we're trying to find that
right chemistry and get everyone clicking on the same page."
Wheatley, a two-time Division III Goalkeeper of the Year and Lacrosse Magazine's Preseason Player of the Year, had seven saves and a momentum-busting interception against Stevenson. Last year, the Cambridge native finished with a 5.56 goals-against average and .563 save percentage as the Sea Gulls went 23-0 and won their second national title in four years.
Salisbury, which has won 47 of its last 48 games, graduated five starters but returned many who saw signification playing time.
All-American Meghan Toomey (St. Mary’s) returns to lead a defense that allowed just 5.22 goals last season. Two starters graduated but Dominique DiPino (Dulaney), Laura Maskell (Marriotts Ridge), Allison Toomey (St. Mary's) and Anna Sparr should be just as stingy.
Bethany Baer (Westminster), another All-American, is Lacrosse Magazine's pick for Preseason Midfielder of the Year.
"She does incredible things on both ends of the field," Nestor said. "She's so smart offensively, making smart cuts, smart reads, smartly-timed dodges, and then defensively she always comes up with that big interception or caused turnover just because she reads things so well."
The Sea Gulls' attack should have a more balanced look after graduating 111 goals with Katie Bollhorst and Lauren Feusahrens. Several players are capable of leading the team in scoring, including Shannon Carta (South River), Kate Haker (Westminster) and Shelby Nemecek (Liberty), who combined for 16 goals in the first two games.
The Sea Gulls, who have won 11 straight Capital Athletic Conference championships and 71 straight CAC games, play eight teams in the preseason Top 20, including a spring break rematch with Trinity (Conn.), the team they beat, 12-5, for the national title.
That win paid Trinity back for its victory in the 2012 championship game, but the two have never played during the regular season.
The two will meet again in Florida on March 18. Nestor said both teams were looking to head south for spring break, so it worked out that they could play.
The Sea Gulls' schedule includes eight teams ranked in the preseason Top 20, including three of the Top 5 -- No. 2 Trinity, No. 4 SUNY Cortland and No. 5 Franklin & Marshall. They next host Catholic Saturday at 1 p.m.