---- — By Anthony Mitchell
For The Daily Item
Susquehanna's postseason fate was hanging in the balance when the right foot of a freshman struck the ball, sending it careening into the back of the net.
The quick motion from David Aurand gave the Crusaders a one-goal lead which Susquehanna preserved to earn a return trip to the NCAA Division III Tournament after winning its second-straight Landmark Conference title.
Aurand is the newest member of a group of three former Selinsgrove Seals, along with senior goalkeeper Matt Salsman and sophomore forward Gannon Keller, that have played integral roles for the Crusaders.
Thanks to Aurand's goal, Susquehanna (13-5-1) has a 5 p.m. Saturday date at Dickinson in the first round of NCAAs.
Aurand admitted that he did not have time to think about his shot before he let loose the goal that extended Susquehanna's season Saturday.
"I just thought 'I could shoot this,' and it ended up going in," Aurand said. "My body took over. I didn't really think about (the shot) when it happened."
Aurand spent years honing that motion and those instincts. From his start in AYSO to playing on the City Islanders and NU United club teams, Aurand spent many years on the field, refining his game.
His success continued in high school, where Aurand scored 34 goals in an all-state senior season that resulted in him being named Daily Item Boys' Soccer Player of the Year.
"It's a really good honor to have," Aurand said. "Everybody sees how hard I worked to be a good player. It was really nice to get recognition."
Crusaders head coach Jim Findlay noticed the potential when Aurand was a Selinsgrove freshman.
"When he was on, he was a man against boys," Findlay said. "It seemed effortless for him."
Findlay was quick to mention the talented supporting cast that Aurand had around him in high school, support that has continued at Susquehanna.
While Aurand scored many goals during his high school career, he hadn't found the net in college until Saturday night, picking an opportune time to score his first collegiate goal.
"I was struggling to get a goal all season, then to score a goal in the championship was really surprising and exciting," Aurand said. "I just wanted to score for all the seniors because I knew it was their last year."
One of those seniors -- Salsman -- was manning the net for the Crusaders.
Although he admitted to not being certain at first which teammate had scored, Salsman quickly learned during the celebration it was Aurand.
"When I realized it was David (who scored), I thought to myself, 'What a great time for someone to get their first collegiate goal,' Salsman wrote in an email. "I was happy for David because he has worked really hard this season to transition into college soccer. He has been great in practice and it was only a matter of time before he put one in the back of the net."
Similar to Aurand, Salsman's work ethic allowed him to transition to the college game and, eventually, into a starting role.
Since assuming the starting job two years ago, Salsman made himself into one of the top goalkeepers in program history and in the Landmark Conference. Recently, Susquehanna fans watched Salsman etch his name atop the Crusaders' record books as the program leader in career wins and career shutouts.
In setting the wins record, Salsman passed one of his assistant coaches, B.J. Merriam, who played for the Crusaders from 2004-07 and finished with 27 wins.
"Coach Merriam has always been a great supporter of the other goalkeepers and myself," Salsman wrote. "He congratulated me and told me that I deserved the records because I worked hard and never gave up."
Salsman never threw in the towel on his college career, despite a lack of early playing time that Findlay said may have caused other players to abandon a sport.
The result of his patience is paying off for the Crusaders, as Salsman's steady play in net has been a driving force for the Crusaders.
Salsman, described by Findlay as a humble kid, was quick to deflect the credit for his success.
"These accomplishments do mean a lot to me but they also show that I have played with some good teams the last two years," Salsman wrote. "Ultimately though, my greatest accomplishments at SU have been being part of the program's first back-to-back conference championships."
Keller has played an important role around the ball during his two years at Susquehanna after transferring from Bloomsburg.
Much like Aurand, Keller made his first Crusaders goal special, scoring the game-winning goal against Grove City last year in his first game with Susquehanna.
"(He's) someone we've relied on down the down the stretch," Findlay said. "He plays good defense and brings a lot of energy when he's on the field."
Perhaps Findlay best described the dynamic of the Crusaders when recounting the moment earlier this week when four of his players, including Salsman, were named as Landmark all-conference selections.
Findlay sent each of his honorees a text message after learning of their accomplishment.
According to Findlay, each player responded: "Thanks, but (the honor) means nothing to me. I'm just happy to be on the team."
With the success of Susquehanna soccer over the past two seasons, Findlay may be most happy to have them on his team.