The two sides have met just twice, with Tufts capturing the 2010 national championship with a 9-6 win and Salisbury returning the favor the following year in a 19-7 rout. This is the Jumbos’ third appearance in the NCAA tournament final, while the Sea Gulls have advanced to their 14th title game.
Tufts (20-2) is riding a 13-game winning streak since losing, 15-8, to Williams on April 1. The team has matched the program’s previous season high in wins, set by the 2010 squad that went 20-1. Sophomore midfielder John Uppgran, who was tabbed a first-team All-American on Wednesday, leads Division III with 120 points on 63 goals and 57 assists.
Salisbury (21-1) has won 11 consecutive games since the only hiccup on the schedule: an 8-7 overtime loss to Christopher Newport on April 2. The program is seeking its 11th national title, which would trail only Hobart’s Division III-leading total of 13. Senior long-stick midfielder Zeke Smith, also named a first-team All-American on Wednesday, leads both teams in caused turnovers with 32.
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Sunday at 1 p.m.
1) Tufts’ offense. The Jumbos have the country’s top-ranked offense, a unit that has averaged 18.7 thus far. Besides Uppgren, junior attackman Chris Schoenhut leads the nation in goals (80) and junior attackman Cole Bailey is tied for third in points (112). With a Division III-leading 1,183 shots, Tufts applies plenty of pressure on opponents, but Salisbury coach Jim Berkman said his defense is prepared for the challenge.
“They’ve got some weapons, but we’ve played a lot of teams with a lot of weapons over the course of the season,” he said. “One of the trademarks of this team is, we do have some outstanding defenders that play great individual and team defense. And our short-sticks are almost like playing with poles. We’ve been able to limit all of the worthy opponents that we’ve played through the season to not shooting the ball quite as much as you’d seen in all of their stats because of the good defense that we play. And hopefully the team that is shooting the ball 50 times per game won’t get that many looks at us, because we do play good defense.”
2) Salisbury’s defense. The Sea Gulls rank eighth in the country in defense, surrendering just 6.3 goals per game. Only two opponents have reached the double-digit mark against Salisbury. The defense has been especially stingy in the postseason, holding York to six goals below its season average of 12 in the second round, Denison to more than 11 goals below its season average of 16.6 in the quarterfinals and Washington College to more than five goals below its season average of 13.2 in the semifinals. But those numbers don’t mean much to Tufts coach Mike Daly.
“Those stats are out the window at this point,” he said. “It’s a one-game season. So it really doesn’t matter what those previous 22 games mattered. I think we’re going to be where we usually are, and we’re going to play at the speed that we play at, and they’re going to play at the speed they play at. As we prepared for that semifinal game against a very talented RIT team, there’s enough plays in the course of a 60-minute lacrosse game on a field with 18- to 22-year-olds that it’s just going to simply come down to which team makes the most out of those plays and which team makes more plays on that day. Our philosophy and our system aren’t really changing too, too much.”
3) Salisbury’s efficiency. The Sea Gulls don’t take quite as many shots as Tufts does, but they have converted 32.1 percent (301-of-937) of their attempts. That accuracy will be needed against Tufts senior goalkeeper Patton Watkins. His 10.15 goals-against average is high, but he has an enviable .589 save percentage, and he ranks 24th in the nation with 13.1 saves per game. Watkins made 20 saves in the Jumbos’ 21-11 rout of RIT in the semifinals, and Berkman knows Salisbury must avoid having Watkins repeat that effort.
“We obviously have got to shoot intelligently,” he said. “We’re not looking to shoot the ball 55 times or 75 times in a game. We want 35 good shots. A good shot for us is a very high-percentage shot within the realm of where we want to shoot it. It’s not just because somebody has his hands free and can shoot the ball. Our objective will be to get 35 intelligent Salisbury shots, and if we do that, we like our chances.”