It’s been a long time since Salisbury hasn’t entered a season ranked atop the preseason polls, but that’s the scenario facing the 10-time national champion this spring.
The Sea Gulls, who have captured the last two NCAA titles, are ranked No. 3 in polls compiled by both Inside Lacrosse and Lacrosse Magazine. Inside Lacrosse has Stevenson, Salisbury’s former rival in the Capital Athletic Conference, ranked No. 1 and SUNY-Cortland, the team the Sea Gulls beat in last year’s NCAA tournament final, No. 2. Lacrosse Magazine has Cortland at No. 1 and Stevenson at No. 2.
It’s an unfamiliar position for Salisbury, but considering that the team graduated six starters – including its entire starting attack – from last season’s squad, coach Jim Berkman said he understands.
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“My thought is it obviously makes sense,” he said. “We lost 20 players from last year’s team. That obviously makes sense on paper because we lost a lot of offense, and some people may have more coming back. That’s why people like to make all those predictions and put us where we are.”
Then again, maybe not being No. 1 can be a blessing in disguise. With the Mustangs ranked No. 1, much of the scrutiny will be trained on them as they attempt to win the South Region for the first time in school history. But Berkman said the players and coaches know that there is a standard that has been established by previous Sea Gulls teams.
“I think there’s always pressure here regardless of where we’re ranked,” he said. “There’s always pressure here just because of the success that we’ve had. I sense that some of the guys on offense are feeling that pressure a little bit right now, and hopefully, they’ll be a little more comfortable with it and garner some confidence as we have some success early on in the season. They’ll improve as the season goes on.”
Berkman also acknowledged that the No. 3 ranking might be just the right motivation for the team.
“I think some people feel that way, especially the guys that have been here for the last couple of championships,” he said. “If that’s the case, so be it.”