Mary Claire Hisle Locks Down a National Championship for Salisbury Women


This is Salisbury's fourth national championship in 20 years.

Mary Claire Hisle only had four saves, but the Salisbury goalie’s steal with 1:13 left allowed the Sea Gulls women’s lacrosse team to run out the clock and win the Division III national championship 14-13 over Tufts on Sunday at Kerr Stadium in Salem, Va.

“I’m so happy,” Hisle said. “I’m so happy that we were able to get a win for our seniors because these guys have been amazing all season, motivating us and keeping us working toward our goal and we did that. We got our goal.”

The interception sealed Salisbury’s perfect 20-0 season and first national crown since 2014. Tufts, which was playing in its first national championship game in program history, held an 18-11 edge in draw controls, but Salisbury benefited from advantages of 15-6 in turnovers and 15-3 in ground balls.

“We really dominated in that area,” said Salisbury’s 20-year head coach Jim Nestor. “Our offense has been strong all year. Our defense really stepped it up at the end.”

Twice, once early and once late, Salisbury built four-goal leads only to see Tufts rally — but the Sea Gulls never trailed in the contest. The Jumbos (10-1) came back to tie the score at 6 at halftime and were on their way to tying the game in the waning minutes when Hisle came up with her biggest play of the game. Tufts had scored three straight goals to climb within one at 14-13.

Hisle, seeing her opportunity, came out from the goal to steal a pass intended for Tufts’ Kathryn Delaney cutting to the front of the crease. The Sea Gulls ran off the remaining 1:13 of the clock.

“The only thing going through my head was get the ball back,” Hisle said. “Our defense was doing really well to give me the opportunity to run out and get the ball. That was pretty much the only thing on my mind.”

Tufts faceguarded Alexis Strobel effectively, holding the NCAA assist leader to one goal and one assist, but Salisbury had nine different goal scorers to provide enough offense. Julie Talbert, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, scored two goals and was a vocal leader all season. Riley Hartman, Delaney Hill, Lauren Valenti and Camryn Pepper also scored two goals apiece, and Pepper also added an assist. Anna Robinson and Lydia McNulty matched Strobel with one goal and one assist apiece. Erin Scannell also had one goal.

“She loves being taken away,” Talbert said of Strobel. “She’s like, ‘How do I get other people open?’ You can take her away, but we have depth. We have other girls out there that can create. I think we saw that today, which was perfect.”

Catherine Lawliss led Tufts with four goals and two assists. Emily Games had three goals and one assist, Colette Smith had a pair of goals and Caroline Walter, Claire Wright, Emma Joyce and Sami Rothstein helped fuel the Jumbos’ comeback with one goal apiece. NESCAC Player of the Year Molly Laliberty made nine saves, several of them spectacular.

“We had a few too many mistakes and came up one goal short, but I couldn’t be more proud of the way that they fought back and gave us a real opportunity at the end to take care of it,” Tufts coach Courtney Shute said. “This is a special group of women that quite literally battled a pandemic together. Two and a half months ago, we weren’t positive we were going to be able to play.”

Nestor also appreciated the perseverance of his Salisbury team. The Sea Gulls held off Tufts in a rare tight game. Salisbury played only four games this year decided by four or fewer goals, and Nestor credited strength coach Matt Nein and his staff with helping prepare them for a championship game that began with temperatures at 88 degrees.

“It really showed their character throughout this whole season to come out unblemished, coming out on the victory side of every game and really coming together as a team,  knowing we were limited in how many people could be in a room together,” Nestor said. “I’m very proud of how our upperclassmen and seniors really did a great job of leading this team in these crazy times.”

Hisle made a career-high 13 saves against Ithaca in a 16-5 win in the NCAA quarterfinals, saved five shots against Denison in a 20-10 win and put together some of her biggest saves at the end of the NCAA final. She stopped a free-position shot by Games, the all-time leading scorer in Tufts history, with 3:26 left that also could have tied the score, then preserved the victory with the final steal.

“I jumped and almost fell down; I was so excited when she got that last interception,” Talbert said. “All season she’s been killing it.”

Salisbury broke out to a 4-0 lead on goals by Scannel, Strobel, Talbert and Hartman in an immediate show of balance and power. Back-to-back goals by Tufts’ Smith preceded Wright’s goal to cut the Salisbury lead to 4-3. Talbert scored to build the lead back to 5-3. Goals by Games and Lawliss tied the score again, and after Pepper’s player-up goal, Games scored again to tie the score before halftime. It was only the second time all year that Salisbury has been tied heading into the locker room.

“We have been harping all season on staying composed,” Talbert said. “Especially throughout the tournament and the C2C playoffs, we’ve been limiting the mistakes, limiting the turnovers, making sure that every look that we get is a productive look. If the goalie makes a great save, the goalie makes a great save.”

Pepper deposited a great feed from McNulty for a 7-6 Salisbury lead. A free-position goal by Hill and a catch-and-finish goal from Valenti made it 9-6 less than eight minutes into the second half. Games and Lawliss cut the Sea Gulls advantage to 9-8 before Hartman and McNulty again gave them breathing room at 11-8. Lawliss sandwiched a pair of goals around Hartman’s second for Salisbury, and Robinson and Hill scored to give the Sea Gulls a 14-10 lead with only 6:24 left.

Tufts, though, rallied one final time behind its second midfield. Joyce, Rothstein and Walter all provided huge scores to trim the Salisbury lead to one goal with four minutes still to play. Tufts had chances, but Hisle squashed their comeback and delivered the program’s fourth national title in the last 20 years.

“We have the same approach of, ‘Let’s get back to where we are right now,’” Hisle said. “We know how this feels right now, and I want to experience this next year.”

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