Attacker Gabby Cha wasn't one of the bigger names in Towson's 2013 recruiting class, which among others included a high school All-American and a key player from one of the nation's top-ranked programs.
These days, however, the former Mount de Sales standout continues to make quite a name for herself in the Colonial Athletic Association.
For the third time this season, Cha on Monday was named CAA Rookie of the Week, after racking up five goals and two assists in a pair of games. She became the first Tigers player to earn league rookie honors three times in a season since goalie Mary Teeters (Centennial) in 2009.
"Recruiting Gabby, we definitely saw a lot of qualities that we felt were going to make her a great collegiate player, but it's always a question of how quickly will those things translate to the college game," coach Sonia LaMonica said. "Gabby's style of play, her size, her stick skills have allowed her to come in and transition really smoothly."
Entering Friday night's home game against William & Mary, Cha ranks third on the team in points (19 goals, five assists). She acknowledged that it's a huge leap from where she figured she's be as a freshman.
"I definitely wasn't expecting to play a lot," Cha said. "I was expecting to just have that small role, where you go in once in a while and give someone a blow. I guess I'm just lucky that I got this opportunity."
It's an opportunity she helped secure long before this season, earning LaMonica's praise as one of the biggest surprises coming out of fall ball.
Her ability to play with both hands was a key factor.
"Being both left- and right-handed, and being able to have the confidence to use both hands, obviously makes you a more versatile player," LaMonica said. "That's allowed her to play in some roles that not everybody can play in. That's one of the things that has really given her opportunities on the field."
Top-ranked Salisbury puts streaks on the line
Salisbury, ranked No. 1 in Division III, has faced more challenges then usual this season, winning five games by three goals or fewer.
That challenge, however, is about to be significantly ramped up, as the Sea Gulls prepare for road games against No. 4 College of New Jersey and No. 2 SUNY Cortland over the final eight days of the regular season, beginning Saturday.
Neither team had a loss entering Thursday's play, posing the most significant threats yet to Salisbury's 45-game regular-season and 35-game (including postseason) winning streaks.
If you think coach Jim Nestor is nervous, however, you'd be wrong.
Scheduling two of the nation's strongest programs at the end of the season was a deliberate move to prepare his team for the playoffs.
"These two teams will be in the [Division III] tournament, so that's why we scheduled them," Nestor said. "It's going to prepare us for the postseason with intensity and the level of play. We haven't really blown anyone out as we have in the past. We always let them hang around a little bit. So this level that we're playing these next few games, we're really going to have to play our 'A' game all the way through."
The Sea Gulls (13-0) have been led offensively by a pair of former Carroll County standouts in junior Shelby Nemecek (Liberty) and junior Bethany Baer (Westminster). Nemecek leads the team with 38 goals and Baer is second with 30, with the duo also ranking first and second, respectively, on the team in caused turnovers.
Another local product, senior Shannon Carta (South River), leads the team with 14 assists, to go along with 20 goals.
Nestor said one of the team's biggest points of emphasis heading into the postseason will be to do a better job of reading opposing defenses.
"It's being able to go from one type of offensive look into another," Nestor said. "So if they're going from a man, to a backer, to a soft man, to a high-pressure man or to a zone, the biggest thing for [us] is to read the defenses a little bit better and faster."
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