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Women's Lacrosse: Carroll grads aim to help Gulls bounce back, win national title

Rarely does losing a game help a team, especially when the squad is not accustomed to losing very often.

Riding a 39-game winning streak - and having won 61 of its previous 62 games - the Salisbury women's lacrosse team typically walks off the field with a victory.

But last Sunday, things changed for the then No. 1-ranked Seagulls against No. 2 Cortland State when they fell 12-8 to snap their incredible streak. Seems like that could drag the team down as they start the Capital Athletic Conference tournament today against Christopher Newport, however junior midfielder Bethany Baer sees things differently.

The Sea Gulls are the defending Division III champion and the Westminster High School graduate isn't panicking after a setback.

"Most of the girls on our team have only lost one game, I mean I have since I lost the other day, it's the only regular season game I've lost at Salisbury," Baer said. "We really didn't know what it's like to lose and I think the pressure is definitely off. We always had that target on our back and I think some of us are kind of relieved, I know I am a little bit."

Between Baer and former Owls player Kate Haker, the duo's only other loss was an 8-7 loss to Trinity College (Conn.) in the championship game. The pair of former Westminster stars have been productive for the 16-1 Sea Gulls this spring.

Baer leads the team with 37 draw controls, is second with 31 goals and is third in scoring with 41 points. Haker is fourth on the team in scoring with 33 points (22 goals, 11 assists).

After a freshman season that featured Haker scoring just nine goals, but registering 23 assists she has taken on more of a goal-scoring role. As a sophomore, she started just one game, but scored 27 goals off the bench and this spring she has tallied 22 goals in 12 starts.

"Starting freshman year I got a lot of those assists when I was the second-string offense, so I had to lead and set up goals for all the other girls," Haker said. "As I progressed over the years I had to become more of a threat near the goal and start putting up points and goals. Not only assisting and helping my teammates score, but helping toward wins over bigger teams so I started contributing more in the form of goals."

Baer and Haker aren't the only former Carroll girls that are helping one of the better women's lacrosse programs in the country. After graduating from Liberty, Shelby Nemecek kept her lacrosse career going at the collegiate level.

Unlike the Owls' duo, Nemecek took a bit longer to start producing. She started two games her freshman year, totaling 14 points on 13 goals and an assist.

But she had a setback in her second year when she tore her ACL and had to miss the season after just one game.

"It definitely took awhile. Even last year, I didn't feel like I was 100 percent. I played the whole season, but now I feel like this year I'm back to where I was," Nemecek said. "It definitely took a lot of hard work, me and my dad worked out pretty much every day when I was cleared to get back to what I was.

"It took a lot of time outside practice and a lot of running and extra time, but I'm really glad I did it."

Despite the lost season, Nemecek showed promise last spring tallying 28 goals and two assists. This season, she has taken it up another notch and leads the Seagulls in scoring with 52 goals and four assists - she ranks third in the CAC for goals. Her last point moved her career total to 100 and she is also tied for second on the team with 31 draw controls.

When it comes to efficiency, Nemecek is one of the best around. She's put 86.4 percent of her shots on goal and against Cortland, she tallied four goals on only four shots. She scored a career high six goals against Christopher Newport on April 8 and didn't look like a player who had a rebuilt knee.

"It came more naturally this year. Last year I felt like I had to work that much harder just to keep up and be able to compete with my teammates," Nemecek said. "This year it's been more fun, I've been able to do my thing. It just makes it a lot more enjoyable to me. It's awesome to be able to help my team, I am an attacker so that's my job to score goals."

Aside from the national championship a year ago and the current record, Salisbury has a long-standing reputation of excellence when it comes to women's lacrosse. The trio of county girls will be looking to win today and extend the 101-game winning streak against conference opponents - a streak that includes conference tournament games as well.

Over the past decade, the Gulls have gone 198-14, won two national titles and have been a finalist six times. If they are able to win the two conference games, it will be there 12th straight conference championship.

That history peaked Baer's interest in joining the Salisbury program, in addition to getting playing time as a freshman.

"It was more about their history with winning national championships," Baer said. "I just wanted to win a national championship and be part of a tradition with this team. That is what drove me to go to Salisbury."

Now, the Seagulls have their eyes on defending their crown and returning to the top. Nemecek agreed with Baer and said the loss to Cortland relieved some pressure, but she isn't ready to pack it in for the season.

"We can't wait. We can beat any team that we want to. We didn't play our game when we lost to Cortland," Nemecek said. "After losing it was kind of like a wake-up call and a fire under our butts that made everyone realize we can't just come out flat. When we play our game, no one can stop us. It was kind of a blessing in disguise because now we want it that much more.

"Just because you lose a game doesn't mean you can't win a national championship."

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