Thanks to being the top seed from the South Region and a history that includes 10 national championships, Salisbury is favored to beat Tufts in the NCAA Division III tournament final Sunday at 1 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Sea Gulls (21-1) are 10-4 in title games, while the Jumbos (20-2) have played in two finals, winning in 2010 before losing to Salisbury in 2011. The Sea Gulls’ huge advantage in experience would seem to shift all expectations to them, but coach Jim Berkman said the program isn’t alone under the microscope.
“There’s pressure on everybody,” he said. “Everybody’s got pressure right now. There‘s pressure on [Tufts] because they’ve scored so many goals. But there’s a lot of pressure on everybody at this point. I don’t think anybody’s relying on what they did in the past. Sunday matters in regard to what happens. The only thing that matters in the past is, we’ve got a group of seniors and it will be their third time in that game. Bringing that experience to the table is hopefully going to be the thing that helps us play a lot more composed and a more mistake-free game.”
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Fans of Tufts might think that the team could fly under the radar Sunday, but coach Mike Daly said the budding rivalry between the Jumbos and Salisbury will turn up the heat for both sides.
“There’s not a love lost in the three games we’re now going to get to play at this point,” he said. “Coach Berkman has more wins than any lacrosse coach living, dead or otherwise on any planet in the solar system. So they’ve got a great program and a great coach, and as you said, they’ve won more titles than probably everyone else out there. So it’s a great challenge, and it’s turned into a great little rivalry, and we respect everything that they’ve accomplished and done, but at the end of the day, it’s their 2014 team versus our 2014 team. I love this group of guys that we have coming down there. They’re tough, they’re persistent, and they work really, really hard.”