It’s not too much of a stretch to say that Denison senior attackman Liam Rooney will figure prominently in Salisbury’s defensive plans when the teams meet in Sunday’s NCAA Division III tournament semifinal at Sea Gull Stadium at 1 p.m.
Rooney leads the country in assists with 85 and needs seven more to match former Kean attackman Will Van Dorn’s Division III record of 92 set in 16 games in 1999. Rooney also ranks third in the nation in points with 122.
Coach Jim Berkman indicated the Sea Gulls (20-1), the top seed in the South Region of the bracket, will assign junior defenseman Kyle Tucker to shadow Rooney with junior defenseman Will Nowesnick also getting some reps.
“He’s a total attackman,” Berkman said Friday. “He’s got over 30 goals, and he had a lot of goals last year . So we’re not going to change how we play him. Tucker’s going to be on him, Will’s going to be on him at times, and they’re two of the best defensemen in the country.”
Rooney has six goals and 17 assists in three postseason games, but Berkman said Salisbury’s defensive players are accustomed to matching up with an offensive quarterback of Rooney’s caliber because they have to deal with senior attackman Nathan Blondino on a daily basis.
“The thing that I think may help us is we kind of have the same guy, and our D-guys have covered that guy every day for five months,” Berkman said. “He’s a Nate Blondino-kind of player. Maybe he has the ball in his stick more than Nate has it in his because a lot of things go through him on their team. But he is a very similar player. A kid with a good stature. He’s 6-foot, 190ish, just like Nate. He’s got great eyes. He sees people that other people don’t see. So I think in regards to our preparation, other teams that have had to prepare for Denison, they don’t have that guy where I think we have that guy. Tucker and Nowesnick and [senior Aaron] Leeds go against that guy every day in practice. So I think that makes this a little easier to prepare versus not having played that kind of guy on a daily basis.”
Blondino, who leads Division III in points with 129 and is the first player in the program’s past 10 seasons to reach 100 points in multiple years, and Rooney are vying for the Attackman of the Year award. But Berkman said the more important objective is advancing to the title game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on May 28.
“They’re definitely two of the best in the game, but these are two outstanding teams,” Berkman said. “Both teams don’t beat themselves as they’ve shown throughout the season. And people are going to have to make some plays on Sunday. Hopefully, we have a few more playmakers than they do when it’s all said and done.”