Winning national championships has become synonymous with Salisbury, but Sunday’s 14-10 victory over SUNY-Cortland in the NCAA tournament final might be the most poignant one for the players and coach Jim Berkman.
Berkman suffered a mild heart attack while working out at his local gym March 11. After having two stents inserted to remove a blockage in one of the arteries, he was permitted to return to the team eight days later.
In the aftermath of what has been a whirlwind journey, Berkman reflected on the path to the program’s 10th national title during his post-game comments at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
“It’s been a pretty interesting two months,” he conceded. “You hope those never happen, but they did. I was fortunate to – probably because of the lifestyle I lived, being extremely healthy and extremely fit – to overcome [the] 100 percent blockage. Not too many people survive that. But the years of working out six and seven days a week, and over 100 triathlons I’ve done, my auxiliary arteries were strong enough to pull me through. I was eating well and led by example.”
Berkman opened up about his health scare with his players prior to Sunday’s tournament final, providing more details about his heart attack and what he endured.
“The message was, you live your life in the moment because you’re not going to get this moment back today,” he recalled. “Make sure you leave it all on the field. You take your shower at the end of the day, and whether we win or lose, you can say there are no regrets and I gave my very best effort. Life presents a lot of opportunities, and just make sure you seize those moments.”
Those words made an impression with his players, who said they also got inspiration from his desire to return to the team..
“He talked about it for the first time openly today to our team and about what it meant to him, taking things into perspective,” said senior defenseman Andrew Sellers, a Baltimore native and Archbishop Curley graduate. “He didn’t take much time off. He pushed through the injury. That just shows the Salisbury determination. He was in the hospital and sending out texts telling us to get it done. I remember texting him and saying I hope everything’s great. He texted me back and said, ‘Make sure to watch some film or something. So we pick up from Berkman’s intensity. It was really good to see Coach Berkman come back from that and in full health.”
Added senior attackman, Lantz Carter, a Randallstown native and Northwestern graduate: “Coach is our leader. It was different not having him there, but we have assistant coaches that picked up where he left off. Our seniors led the way, too. We knew the way practice was supposed to be run. Even without him, it still ran the same way. Coach was always watching us. We just gave 110 percent because we knew he wasn’t there.”