Courtney Fegan played on some outstanding teams at South River High that came up short of the ultimate goal of capturing a state championship.
Fegan does not want to suffer the same fate at Salisbury University, which has fielded a perennially powerful women’s lacrosse program throughout the 17-year tenure of head coach Jim Nestor.
Nestor, a Meade High graduate, has led the Sea Gulls to three NCAA Division III Championships with the last coming in 2014. Salisbury’s current seniors have been part of teams that lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament (2015) and the regional final (2016, 2017).
Salisbury is back in the national semifinals this season, having gotten over the hump by beating Trinity College of Connecticut in the quarterfinals last Sunday. Senior midfielder Allie Hynson scored the game-winning goal with just 11 seconds remaining in regulation, leading a large crowd at Sea Gull Stadium to erupt in celebration.
“It was important to make the semifinals because it is something we haven’t achieved in a while,” Nestor said. “It was due to the hard work and determination of the players, especially our seniors. This senior group just was not going to be denied.”
Salisbury secured its first national championship in 2010 after falling in the finals three previous times (2005, 2007, 2009). The Sea Gulls would lose in the NCAA final again in 2012 before capturing consecutive titles in 2013 and 2014.
Losing in the quarterfinals the previous two seasons hurt because the players were so close they could taste it.
“We called it the Elite Eight curse. So that win on Sunday was really monumental for the program,” Fegan said. “I’m so excited that we could get the seniors to this point. Their hard work has really paid off.”
Second-ranked Salisbury (21-1) moves on to meet defending national champion Gettysburg (19-2) on Saturday at Kerr Stadium on the campus of Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia. Top-ranked The College of New Jersey (20-2) will take on No. 4 Middlebury (19-2) in the other semifinal with the winners advancing to Sunday’s national championship game.
“It definitely feels surreal right now. I think it’s probably going to hit me on Thursday when we’re headed there on the bus,” Fegan said. “It’s a testament to the commitment of this entire team. We just really busted our butts this season to get back to where we wanted to be.”
Fegan, a junior attacker, only dealt with the last two years of frustration from falling short of the big stage. However, she is every bit as hungry as the seniors after failing to secure a championship at the high school level.
“We had some great teams at South River that I thought for sure would win a state championship and it just didn’t happen,” Fegan said. “One of the reasons why I came to Salisbury is because it is always competing for a national championship. To be able to hold that trophy would mean so much to me.”
Fegan has started 18 of 22 games on attack and is tied for third on the team with 33 goals scored. The Edgewater resident also plays on the circle and has come up with 22 draw controls.
“Courtney usually plays inside the eight and does a great job of making well-timed cuts and finishing the ball whenever she gets an opportunity,” Nestor said. “We use Courtney on the draw because she is so scrappy and feisty. She also rides hard and is able to create turnovers.”
Senior attackers Krissy Murphy and Dana King lead Salisbury in scoring with 72 and 67 points, respectively. King is the primary finisher with 47 goals while Murphy is the playmaker with 43 assists. Freshman attack Emma Skoglund has scored 34 goals, one more than Fegan and junior attack Gabrielle Mongno.
“We have so many talented players on offense and that is why we are so balanced,” Fegan said. “A big part of my role is working to get others open. A lot of times when I’m cutting it’s designed to get the defense moving.”
As an inside player, Fegan is expected to catch any pass thrown her way and put shots on cage. She is shooting a sizzling 50 percent, having scored on half her 66 attempts.
“I have to finish no matter what it takes. I always hear Coach Nestor in the back of my mind saying ‘You better not shoot the ball right into the goalie’s stick.’ Coach is constantly preaching to shoot for corners or down low,” Fegan said.
Fegan is one of three Anne Arundel County products playing pivotal roles for Salisbury, which suffered its lone loss of the season on April 20 to The College of New Jersey, 10-1. Sophomore Kendall Bannan (St. Mary’s High) starts on line defense while sophomore midfielder Holly Bowers (Northeast) sees significant action off the bench.
Bannan, an Annapolis resident, has recorded 22 ground balls and 16 caused turnovers.
“Kendall has been doing a great job as a low defender and has been one of our key anchors back there,” Nestor said. “Kendall is a real field general as far as directing the defense and helping out. If there is a mistake somewhere else she is able to clean it up.”
Bowers, a Pasadena resident, has scored four goals and been credited with 10 caused turnovers.
“Holly plays mostly a defensive midfield role and knows how to utilize her speed on clears and in transition,” Nestor said.
Nestor believes this Salisbury team is capable of claiming the fourth national championship in program history.
“I think we’re playing really well as a team. Everyone is working hard for each other out there. These women have each others’ backs at crunch time,” said Nestor, who grew up in the Laurel area of Anne Arundel County. “Gettysburg is going to present a stiff challenge. We need to come out and make sure we are playing efficiently and making good decisions on both send of the field. We will have to play our best game of the season to win this next one.”
At the Division III level, the women have a different tournament format than the men. Salisbury men’s lacrosse played its semifinal last Sunday and will face Wesleyan (Conn.) in Sunday’s national championship.
Earning a national title on the women’s side requires winning games on back-to-back days. Salisbury accomplished that feat last weekend, whipping Denison 16-4 in a regional semifinal on Saturday then turning around and nipping Trinity on Sunday.
“That’s going to be a really big challenge,” Fegan said of possibly playing Saturday and Sunday. We just did that last weekend so we know how to deal with it. It’s the last two games so you need to empty the tank.”