Alexis Strobel and the rest of the senior class of the Salisbury women’s lacrosse program have enjoyed the remarkable achievement of reaching three Final Fours in their four seasons. But as the Sea Gulls (18-0) prepare to meet Denison (12-1) in an NCAA Division III tournament semifinal Saturday at 5 p.m. in Salem, Virginia, the absence of a national title since the 2014 squad defeated Trinity for the championship is a powerful motivator.
“It’s definitely been too long,” said Strobel, an attacker from Bel Air who leads the nation in total assists (74) and ranks second in assists per game (4.1). “Even two years ago when we lost in the national championship [to Middlebury, 14-9], that’s an even bigger motivator because you make it that far and you’re just a step away from it. We’re ready for a national championship. We’re the most prepared than we’ve ever been, and I think the underclassmen learn through us. They know how bad we want it, and they want it just as bad. We’re prepared and motivated and ready to go into this weekend.”
While Strobel has served as the offensive catalyst with 101 points, she has been complemented by senior attacker Lydia McNulty, an Annapolis resident and Broadneck graduate who leads the team in goals (58) and ranks second in points (67). On the other end of the field, senior defender Carrie Hesen, a Glenwood resident and Glenelg graduate who leads the team in caused turnovers (24) and draw controls (64) and ranks third in ground balls (23), has anchored the defense.
Coach Jim Nestor, who has guided Salisbury to NCAA titles in 2010, 2013 and 2014, pointed to a 14-8 victory over perennial powerhouse The College of New Jersey on March 20 as a turning point.
“I think anytime we play TCNJ, that’s one of those games that is going to give you confidence and be a learning experience,” he said. “I think that just helped solidify that we had all the pieces because they’re always one of the best teams in the country and that’s why we play them. … So that game is always one that is one of the standards where if you’re playing them well and you beat them, then you’re doing the right things.”
If the Sea Gulls can get past the Big Red, they will face either St. John Fisher (18-1) or Tufts (9-0) in Sunday’s final at 5 p.m. at Roanoke. While emphasizing that the team isn’t overlooking Denison, Strobel acknowledged that the national championship is tantalizingly close.
“Playing as many games as we did and even being able to play in the Final Four is a blessing,” she said. “Obviously, we want the ring at the end of it, we want that title. But we would still be so proud of the team and how far we’ve come together even if it ended Saturday or in second place. That is still such a huge accomplishment and still something to be grateful for. But ultimately, we want the ring at the end of all of it.”
Facing a finalist
For the past two seasons, the Maryland men have had the luxury of playing alongside a contender for the Tewaaraton Award in senior attackman Jared Bernhardt. On Sunday, the defense will meet one of Bernhardt’s fellow Tewaaraton finalists in Notre Dame sophomore attackman Pat Kavanagh, who ranks second in Division I in assists per game (3.3) and fourth in points per game (5.6).
Fortunately for the No. 3 seed Terps (13-0), they have senior defenseman Nick Grill, who faced the No. 6 seed Fighting Irish (8-3) four times at Marquette and once last season with Maryland. Grill marked former attackman Ryder Garnsey previously and Kavanagh last spring.
“I think they both play with a ton of intensity,” Grill said of both Garnsey and Kavanagh. “They have no hesitancy to get into a scrum, to put their nose in, and do whatever they need to do to win. So I think there is a similarity there, but I give Pat all the credit in the world. From playing him last year and then watching the film this year, he looks like a Tewaaraton finalist for sure, and I think he backs it up completely. He’s finding guys and making everyone better, and then he can get his whenever he wants. Just making sure we’re ready for that.”
Freshmen lift Loyola
On an offense headlined by senior attackmen Aidan Olmstead and Kevin Lindley and sophomore attackman Evan James, freshman midfielder Seth Higgins’ five goals and seven assists don’t seem that significant.
But the Hampstead resident and St. Paul’s graduate has finished each of his last four games with at least one point and set career highs in both goals and points when he registered two goals and three points in the Greyhounds’ 14-13 upset of No. 7 seed Denver in Sunday’s NCAA tournament first-round game. Coach Charley Toomey said he and offensive coordinator Marc Van Arsdale have been pleased with Higgins’ contributions.
“I said to him before the game, ‘Just keep growing up for me,’” Toomey said. “I went over and gave him a hug at the end of the game, and I know there’s more in there. I thought Coach Van Arsdale — as he always does — has these guys really prepared for what they’re going to see on game day, and Seth obviously knew what the game plan was and knew we had to attack at goal line, and I was just real proud of his effort tonight.”
>> For the first time since 2006, the quarterfinals of the NCAA women’s Division I tournament will not involve any teams from the state. That was also the last time Maryland had not advanced to the quarterfinal round.
>> Alison Harbaugh, a Baltimore resident and Bryn Mawr graduate, scored the first goal of her career in No. 5 seed Notre Dame’s 16-0 shutout of Robert Morris last Friday. Harbaugh, a freshman attacker who is the daughter of Ravens coach John Harbaugh, and the Fighting Irish (11-6) will face No. 4 seed Boston College (15-3) in a quarterfinal Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Eagles’ Newton Campus Lacrosse & Soccer Field in Newton, Massachusetts.
>> John Nostrant, a three-time All-American midfielder who was a member of three Washington College teams that advanced to three NCAA Division III title games, was introduced Tuesday as the Shoremen’s new head coach. Nostrant, who had guided Gilman, Haverford in Pennsylvania, and St. Albans in Washington, to 490 wins, succeeds Jeff Shirk, who informed the school March 8 that he was leaving to become the athletic director at The Pine School in Hobe Sound, Florida.
>> Jake Carraway, an Annapolis resident and St. Mary’s graduate, scored five goals on 12 shots to power No. 5 seed Georgetown to an 18-8 shellacking of Syracuse last Saturday in the NCAA tournament first round. The graduate student attackman and the Hoyas (13-2) will meet No. 4 seed Virginia (11-4) in a quarterfinal Saturday at noon at Hofstra’s James M. Shuart Stadium in Hempstead, New York.