Revenge was oh so sweet for Salisbury's women's lacrosse team, especially when it came with a national championship.
The Sea Gulls polished off a 23-0 season with a 12-5 victory and the Division III national championship by avenging last year's title-game loss to Trinity College in a battle of undefeated teams Sunday at Stevenson University's Mustangs Stadium.
"We've been cheering 'Redemption' all year and 'Road to redemption' and that word has really meant a lot to us," said Sea Gulls senior attacker Lauren Feusahrens, who scored five goals. "It definitely is awesome and it's also great to be the last undefeated team. It means a lot to be like, 'OK , we went up against someone hard and we finished and we won.'"
The top-seeded Bantams (21-1), from Hartford, Conn., are the only team to beat the Sea Gulls in their last 46 games, but that stinging 8-7 loss from last May's title game doesn't hurt anymore. The Sea Gulls are the 13th undefeated Division III women's lacrosse champion.
As Sunday's game ended and fireworks shot off from beyond the sideline, Sea Gulls junior goalie Ashton Wheatley, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player who had just run out the last 12 seconds, tossed the ball into the air as her ecstatic teammates swarmed her.
"As the time was getting closer and closer [to zero], I wanted to hold onto that ball and I wanted to see how many [Bantams] would chase me, because it didn't matter at that point," Wheatley said with a laugh. "I was just so excited. I like to be out of the goal running around, so I was just like, 'This is great. You couldn't ask for a better end to the game in my opinion.'"
Wheatley made nine saves in the title game after stopping 12 shots in the 8-7 semifinal win Saturday over Middlebury. She had six saves in Sunday's second half when the Bantams outshot Salisbury, 11-8. The Sea Gulls managed only a slight edge in the game, 21-18.
"She's a great goalie. There's no question she absolutely deserves to be tournament MVP," Trinity coach Kate Livesay said. "I think that was probably one of the biggest issues for our attackers. It wasn't just that they had to beat their defender, they then had to get the ball past her and that put a lot of pressure on our shooters. Knowing how good she is definitely affected the mindset of the shooters."
As the Sea Gulls won their second national championship in four years, Feusahrens scored four times in a 6-2 second-half run that sealed the victory. With nine assisted goals, Salisbury did a terrific job of moving the ball on attack and finding openings in a Bantams defense that had not allowed an opponent to score in double figures all season.
"We knew they were going to play that backer zone," Feusahrens said, "and we knew we were going to have to pull that one and two hole and [get] that girl off the crease and make them make slides they don't normally make, make that backer work hard to get around… We really stuck to our game plan and got the looks we wanted and finished them off really well."
Although they had to come back to beat Middlebury, coach Jim Nestor's Sea Gulls led Trinity from start to finish, getting on the board in the first minute and a half when Maggie Roundy fed Kara Koolage. Roundy's goal from Bethany Baer boosted the lead to 4-0 with 18:01 left in the half.
When Trinity took a time out, Nestor reminded his players that the Bantams had trailed SUNY-Cortland 3-0 in the semifinals, coming back to win 8-6.
The Bantams rallied with a couple of free-position goals to cut the lead to 4-2 with 1:52 left but Roundy and Baer finished off the half with back-to-back goals for a 6-2 lead at the break.
Megan Leonhard scored the first goal of the second half for the Bantams, but they couldn't maintain the momentum, because Wheatley, last season's Division III Goalie of the Year, stopped another Leonhard shot.
Koolage then fed Feusahrens for an extra-man goal and a 7-3 Sea Gulls lead with 26:56 to go. Caroline Hayes answered for the Bantams, but Katie Bollhorst and Feusahrens scored quick assisted goals from Kate Haker and Roundy, respectively and the Sea Gulls finished off the game with five of the last six goals.