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Division III lacrosse preview for Salisbury Sea Gulls

Tuesday’s entry is the seventh installment of a series taking a look at each of the eight Division III programs in this state according to their order of finish from last season. The Sun’s lacrosse preview is slated to be published on Friday, Feb. 7. This is Salisbury’s turn.

Overview: For only the seventh time since they captured their first NCAA championship in 1994, the Seagulls failed to advance to the tournament final. Over that same span, they have won 10 national titles, which is a remarkable run. Although the team fell to archrival Stevenson, 12-6, in a tournament semifinal, Salisbury defied what some expected to be year of rebuilding with a very youthful roster. With a majority of the roster back from last spring, the team is a popular pick to challenge once again for the NCAA crown.

Reason for optimism: A defense that ranked fifth in Division III after surrendering a paltry 6.0 goals per game last season figures to be strong again.

Starting defensemen Brett Baer (46 ground ballas and 24 caused turnovers) has graduated, but senior Josh Martin (28 GB, 30 CT) and junior Knute Kraus (39 GB, 17 CT) are back. Junior Austin Kemp, who recorded 17 ground ballas and 13 caused turnovers as a long-stick midfielder, will move to close defense to replace Baer.

The defensive midfield is loaded with a pair of long-stick midfielder in senior Zeke Smith (75 GB, 50 CT) and junior Marty Wallace (11 GB, 7 CT) and a trio of short-stick midfielders in sophomores Preston Dabbs (32 GB, 28 CT) and Davis Anderson (51 GB, 18 CT) and senior Tim Stone (30 GB, 14 CT).

“I would say it’s definitely a group any coach would want to start the season with,” coach Jim Berkman said of his defense. “Along with Preston Dabbs who is a returning D-middie All American, Davis Anderson, Timmy Stone and all of the D-middies are back from last year. Zeke Smith is a preseason first-team, All-American pole, and a backup pole in Marty Wallace got a lot better. That whole group’s got a lot of experience down there and is extremely athletic. So obviously, I would think that would be one of our strengths.”

Reason for pessimism: The Seagulls’ usually prolific offense stumbled a little bit last year, but it wasn’t due to the play on faceoffs where Tyler Granelli won 64.8 percent (225-of-347) and scooped up 150 ground balls.

With Granelli gone, the task now falls to senior Chris Biank, who won 70.1 percent (129-of-184) and 65.2 percent (73-of-112) of his draws in 2012 and 2013 respectively. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Biank doesn’t have the size advantage that the 6-2, 215-pound Granelli wielded, but Biank may be the technician that Granelli was not.

“He’s smaller,” Berkman acknowledged of Biank. “He’s got a couple different things in his repertoire. When Tyler was hurt in 2012 and missed three or four games, Chris went over 70 percent and was actually one of the highest ones in the country, but didn’t have enough things for the whole year to be ranked. And he’s done other things here. He’s just a good all-around. He played on the wing on faceoffs in the playoffs last year because he’s such a good ground ball guy. He’s played D-middie, he’s run second line. He’s not a FOGO [Face Off, Get Off]. He’s a lacrosse player. So that’s what he brings to the table that I would say that Tyler didn’t bring to the table.”

Keep an eye on: With the graduation of the 2012 starting attack of Matt Cannone, Erik Krum and Tony Mendes (a trio that combined for 163 goals and 112 assists that season), the inconsistency and occasional lack of production experienced by the 2013 unit wasn’t unexpected.

With a year under their belts, senior Rhett DePol (19 goals and 34 assists) and sophomore Brady Dashiell (26, 7) should enjoy better chemistry. As of now, Berkman said senior Luke Phipps (9, 2) is poised to claim the third starting spot over junior Jesse Rabishaw (12, 8).

Either way, Berkman feels more confident about this group’s potential for the upcoming season.

“Hopefully, our attack is going to be much improved because it had a year to get the wrinkles smoothed out and play with each other a little bit better and then we’ll hopefully be a much more consistent group at that end of the field so that offense isn’t such a struggle,” he said. “I think that the growing pains and the evolution of Brady Dashiell there at the end of the season, he really came on and is much improved this year. Rhett DePol really developed a good connection with him, and Jesse Rabishaw and Luke Phipps have really come on. Luke would probably be the third starter right now and has been a great surprise. He has a tremendous left-handed shot. Hopefully, our guys are pretty excited about where that group is at this point that it’s going to make scoring a little bit easier to go along with a pretty veteran defense that is back in place.”

What he said: Nobody associated with the program was particularly thrilled with last season’s finish, but there’s much to be enthused about for a program that has grown accustomed to playing on Memorial Day weekend.

“The whole theme has been building on where we finished last year,” Berkman said. “Obviously, we didn’t do quite what we wanted to do in that semifinal game, digging a hole in the first quarter that we couldn’t get out of, but then we played pretty much even over the last three quarters. The attack had come along, the defense is in place with a great goalie, and we’re hopefully ready to make a couple more steps on a consistent basis this year to give us another shot.” 

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