SALISBURY – Last year’s 12-6 loss to eventual national champion Stevenson marked only the second time in 11 years that Salisbury had been frozen out of the NCAA Division III tournament final.
The Sea Gulls ensured a return with Sunday’s 13-8 victory over Washington College in a national semifinal on Sunday night, and making the trip to M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore for Sunday’s title game is especially meaningful for senior defenseman Josh Martin, who transferred from Onondaga Community College for the 2013 campaign.
“Last year was unfortunate,” he said. “We had a great season, but it didn’t end the way we wanted it to. We plan on ending it the way we want to this year.”
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Senior goalkeeper Alex Taylor, a Glenelg graduate, is going back after helping the 2012 squad defeat SUNY-Cortland, 14-10, in Foxborough, Mass.
“My sophomore year, we were fortunate enough to go to Gillette Stadium,” he said. “Last year, it was a little bittersweet losing to Stevenson. My goal since that day was to get back to Baltimore, and we’re going.”
Salisbury (21-1) will meet Tufts (20-2), which upended previously unbeaten Rochester Institute of Technology, 21-11, in another national semifinal earlier on Sunday. The two teams have battled for the NCAA crown before with the Jumbos winning in 2010 and the Sea Gulls returning the favor a year later.
“It’s a great team,” coach Jim Berkman said of Tufts. “We’re honored to be playing them. We know we have our work cut out for us, but we like where we’re at and what we’ve done for 22 games. We’ll give it our best shot on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.”
Circling back to “Three Things to Watch” …
1) Washington College’s starting attack goes lifeless. The Shoremen upset Stevenson on Wednesday thanks to a combined eight-goal, one-assist effort from seniors Jim Cusick and J.D. Campbell and junior Stephen Luck. But that trio totaled zero goals on seven shots and zero assists against Salisbury’s starting close defense of senior Knute Kraus, junior Austin Kemp and Martin.
“Salisbury is pretty athletic,” Shoremen coach Jeff Shirk said. “I think they got to our gloves quite a bit. They didn’t allow Jimmy Cusick to get to his left hand like he’s accustomed to doing. It’s kind of a blur right now. I’d have to go back to the film and see what they did, but whatever they did worked well.”
2) Salisbury’s defense shuts off Washington College. The Shoremen scored the game’s three goals coming off of isolated dodges by senior midfielder Hunter Nowicki (twice) and sophomore midfielder Sid Looney (once). Recognizing that Washington College didn’t think that the Sea Gulls would slide, Berkman tweaked the team’s defensive strategy to slide quicker. The Shoremen scored just five times on 23 for the final three quarters of the game and committed 14 of their 18 turnovers over the same stretch.
“We got a lot of turnovers when we started to slide a little bit quicker,” Berkman said. “Not too quick, but we realized that we had to go a little quicker than we’re accustomed to.”
3) Faceoff losses don’t hurt Salisbury. Washington College junior Michael Trapp put aside a 13.3 percent outing (2-of-15) against Stevenson senior Brent Hiken by winning 68.2 percent (15-of-22) against the Sea Gulls and senior Chris Biank (31.8 percent on 7-of-22). Trapp’s success, however, didn’t translate into goals for the Shoremen, and Berkman seemed more than delighted with that trade-off.
“Trapp’s a great faceoff kid,” Berkman said. “He’s going to be a first- or second-team All American. To his credit, he’s a great player. Even though we only won seven tonight, I thought there was a chance we could have won three or four more. We didn’t scoop up the ground ball appropriately. But you know what I thought was key tonight? When we really needed one, we got one. There were a couple possessions where we really need to get one, and we got those in a timely manner.”