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Salisbury succeeds in must-win game

Salisbury field hockey players set a goal before the season began. The Falcons wanted to reach the district playoffs for the first time in the high school career of anyone on this year’s roster.

The team remained on pace to achieve that goal most of the season, staying right at or a bit over .500 overall until a four-game stretch against some quality opponents late in the season left Salisbury needing one win heading into the season’s final game, a nonleague contest at Freedom on Saturday, Oct. 1.

The Falcons pulled out a victory in that game, using a pair of second-half goals in a 2-1 win over the Patriots. When the horn sounded to end the game, there was jubilation among the Falcons on the field and the sidelines.

“I play defense,” said Salisbury senior Kendall Schaffer, “so me and [goal keeper Olivia Ringholm] are really close in the game. Hearing the buzzer go off and seeing that we won we immediately ran to each other. It was really high energy and it was really great.”

“There were tears of joy for once,” said Ringholm. “With some losses there had been tears of disappointment. It was nice to turn that around into happiness. We ran up to each other and hugged immediately.”

Ringholm and Schaffer are part of a group of three seniors that have been with the Falcon field hockey program all four years of high school. DeFazio has been the team’s leading scorer the past few years, but in the playoff-clinching win she dished out assists on both goals, which were scored by junior Elise Pallazzo and freshman Kendra Morgan.

“From the minute we started this year, making districts was one of their goals,” said Salisbury head coach Jane Brennan. “They wrote it down. They were reaching for that. They knew [the final game] was to extend their season and they didn’t want it to end.”

There were some nerves heading into that decisive game, but the team was prepared.

“In the practices leading up to it we had this drive,” said Schaffer. “We really focused on being at practice. Everybody wanted to be there. We were all really committed because it was really important for us to get this win. Everybody just came together and we worked really hard.”

“They knew it was coming down to that game,” said Brennan. “They anticipated all the anxiety and they were ready for it.”

Salisbury had won five games last season and just three in a pandemic-shortened 2020 season in which the team posted a 3-8 record. As freshmen in 2019, this year’s seniors were part of a 5-13 team that won two of its last three games of that season.

While the wins might not have increased over those three seasons, Brennan and her players were laying a foundation for future success and the program was improving whether it showed in wins and losses or not.

“We have seen so much development,” said Brennan. “I’ve been able to see them progress when it comes to their skill level.

“The commitment has grown. They understand they just can’t pick up their stick in August. They played winter league for the first time this year and then they went into summer league. We had girls go to East Stroudsburg’s camp this summer.”

DeFazio, Ringholm and Schaffer, who have been best friends since sixth grade, are among nine seniors on this year’s team. But the program also has promising young players like Morgan and freshman midfielder Gwyneth DeFazio, Ella’s younger sister who Brennan expects to be one of the top players in the Colonial League over the next four years.

Playing winter and summer leagues helped the team gel even before practice began late last summer.

“Building the foundation for the freshmen was really easy because they came in and we were all like one family,” said Schaffer.

“We’ve grown more as a family this year and we’re all so close and we have that trust in each other,” said Ella DeFazio. “It feels like on the field we can read each other’s minds when we’re passing and making plays.”

The district playoffs are slated to begin Tuesday, Oct. 25. Salisbury is fourth in the district rankings and will likely earn the No. 4 seed with a first-round home game against No. 5 Bangor, which beat Salisbury 5-0 back on Sept. 22.

Reaching the postseason is a result of the win-loss record the team posted this season, but it’s also a factor of what Salisbury’s players and coaches have been working toward for four years.

“They kept saying it’s our turn,” said Brennan. “It is their turn. This group that I’ve had for four years has given their hearts and souls from day one of their freshman year. For it to come to fruition has been huge for us.”

“It really shows the team’s hard work and how much time and the quality of that time we put into the game,” said Ella DeFazio.

PRESS PHOTO BY NANCY SCHOLZ Slaisbury's Bailee Neitz battles for a ball during the Falcons' playoff-clinching win over Freedom.
PRESS PHOTO BY NANCY SCHOLZ Kendall Schaffer (10) is one of three players that have been part of the Salisbury field hockey team for the past four seasons.