Based on last year’s numbers, attackmen Luke Phipps and Mike Kane have turned in surprising seasons for Salisbury. Asked to pick which player has been the bigger surprise, coach Jim Berkman couldn’t single out one and leave out the other.
“I actually think that both are pretty big surprises,” he said on Tuesday morning. “Both have really gotten a lot better. Their confidence has been a big part of them improving, and the work that they have done in the offseason to get their skill level to the next level has been remarkable.”
Phipps, a John Carroll graduate, ranks second on the Sea Gulls (19-1) in both goals (35) and assists (26). As a reserve attackman in 2013, Phipps recorded nine goals and two assists, but couldn’t break into an extended role.
“One of Luke’s things was he was very inconsistent,” Berkman said. “One time, he would throw the ball at somebody’s feet, and the next time, he’d throw it over somebody’s head, and you can’t play offense like that. His stick was inconsistent. His shot – I swear to God – has gained 10 miles per hour this year. When he gets his hands free, he shoots as hard as any kid we’ve played against this year. He can sting corners, and he’s also gotten better eyes.”
Kane leads the offense in goals (41) and ranks fourth in points (45) and has used his 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame to find a home as a crease attackman after dabbling as a midfielder.
“He began as a middie, but we didn’t really think he was fast enough, didn’t shoot well enough on the run,” Berkman said. “But he wanted to play so bad that we said, ‘Why don’t you give the crease thing a chance? You can work on your stick and your inside shooting, and you’ve got to do endless hours of wall ball.’ He got his opportunity, and every time he’s gotten a chance, he’s been putting the ball in the goal. He’s definitely surpassed what we thought originally going into the season, but now he’s been a pretty major force.”
Joining senior Rhett DePol (St. Mary’s), Phipps and Kane are part of a starting attack that has accounted for 39.2 percent (107-of-273) of Salisbury’s goals and 39.4 percent (65-of-165) of the team’s assists. That unit could be instrumental against Denison, which will visit Sea Gull Stadium on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in an NCAA tournament quarterfinal.
At 19-0, the Big Red is one of just two undefeated teams left in the postseason (Rochester Institute of Technology is the other at 19-0), but Denison is just 2-11 all-time in the quarterfinals. Still, Berkman predicted that record would not matter on Wednesday.
“I don’t think anybody in lacrosse at this point is living in the past. I think we’re living in the moment,” he said. “You’re enjoying your season, you know where you’re at, you’re confident in your abilities, you’ve beaten good teams. If there’s any advantage right now, it’s us playing at home. That’s the one element you can’t take out of the equation – the travel, a home game, the home crowd.”