Ten-time Division III national champion Salisbury has won 28 of 34 games in its series with Ohio Wesleyan. The Sea Gulls have won 12 straight since the Battling Bishops pulled off a 14-13, overtime upset on March 10, 2002.
Ohio Wesleyan is seeking its first 5-0 start since 1995, when the program was helmed by current Syracuse defensive coordinator Lelan Rogers. The team has been anchored by a defense that has surrendered just four goals per game, good for 13th in the country. The Battling Bishops have been especially stingy on extra-man opportunities, allowing just three goals in 22 man-down situations.
No. 5 Salisbury is looking for its 10th 6-0 record in the past 11 years. An offense that scored 12.3 goals per game last season has upped that average to 13.6 so far. Five players have reached 10 points already, with junior attackman Mike Kane leading the team in goals (11) and senior attackman Rhett DePol (St. Mary's) pacing the offense in assists (eight).
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Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at the Landon School in Bethesda at 1 p.m. Sunday.
1) Beware the midfield. Ohio Wesleyan’s leading scorer is junior attackman John Umbach, who has 15 goals and five assists. But a pair of midfielders lead the offense in shots with 33 each. Junior Kyle Foster has 10 goals and four assists, while senior Spencer Schnell has three goals and seven assists. The 6-foot-4, 185-pound Foster and 6-2, 210-pound Schnell tend to tower over their opponents, but the Sea Gulls could counter with a duo of long poles in 6-4, 210-pound senior Zeke Smith and 5-10, 180-pound senior Marty Wallace. “It’s definitely in our repertoire,” Salisbury coach Jim Berkman said of double-poling the midfield. “We used it at Gettysburg on Saturday a few key times [in an 11-9 win], and I thought it stymied them a little bit when we were able to get on their two best guys. So it’s something that we’ve used the last couple years, but it’s not exclusive thing. We don’t believe in that. But I think, periodically, it’s a real good thing.”
2) Slow the transition. Berkman watched the Battling Bishops edge an Aurora team coached by his son Kylor, 7-5, on March 1 and noticed that they thrived with an offense that took advantage of transition opportunities off faceoffs and defensive stops. Berkman said that is a concern for the Sea Gulls, who have encountered a few issues of their own in slowing down opponents’ fast-break chances. “They seem to be very opportunistic when the opportunity presents itself,” he said. “We’ve given up a few fast-break goals by sliding a little bit early this year, and we are definitely working on not beating ourselves and making the offensive team make some decisions instead of us making the decisions for them.”
3) Lock down the faceoffs. Salisbury’s tradition of quality faceoff specialists has continued with senior Chris Biank, who has won 55.9 percent (52 of 93) of his draws and scooped up 35 ground balls. His success has been critical to the offense’s. The same could be said for Ohio Wesleyan, which has relied on junior Sam Gioseffi to win 74.2 percent (49 of 66) of his faceoffs and collect 27 ground balls. Berkman said Gioseffi has a style that could be difficult for first-time opponents. “The thing that’s unique about him is he’s actually left-handed, I believe, because he always pops it and switches to his left hand all the time,” Berkman said. “That’s very unique. There aren’t too many guys who do that. That’s a little bit different, but I just think he’s a good solid guy who has mastered pinching the ball in the back of your stick and getting it out of there and flipping it to yourself or passing it to your teammates.”