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Salisbury uses new map to plot a route to the top Division III leader has JuCo help


SALISBURY -- The road to a possible NCAA Division III lacrosse championship has taken Salisbury coach Jim Berkman to some strange recruiting places.

Most of the lacrosse powers hit the private schools in Baltimore or the public high schools in upstate New York.

Berkman stops there, too, but for leftovers. And then it's off to places such as Herkimer, Anne Arundel or Essex community colleges.

Berkman has taken a mesh of veterans, two freshmen and several transfers and turned them into the No. 1 team in Division III. The Sea Gulls finished the regular season at 13-0 and are expected to be the top seed when the eight-team NCAA tournament field is announced Sunday.

And the Sea Gulls say they can give some of the area Division I teams a decent game, too.

"We don't come close to Johns Hopkins and Loyola, but any of the others we can give one heck of a game," said Berkman.

They aren't cocky, just confident.

"A lot of people may look down on Division III lacrosse, but I think we can play in the big leagues," said junior midfielder Dod Poe, from Loyola High. "But whether it's junior league or club league, it doesn't matter. We come to play."

This season, Salisbury comes to play with at least 15 junior college transfers. But that has been Berkman's style in his five years at the school, landing such players as Art Morley, Chris Boyle and Geoff Abere.

Berkman doesn't recruit the junior college circuit because he feels it's a shortcut to a championship. He does it out of necessity. Besides being a Division III school, Salisbury requires all incoming freshmen to score at least 950 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, according to Berkman.

"We'd prefer to have all our players come here for four years," Berkman said. "They develop leadership that way and become on-the-field coaches after four years in a system. But it doesn't always work out that way.

"So we have to sell the school to other players. Because of the weather, Salisbury is a good attraction for any kid north," he said. "It also gives a player who may not be able to play in Division I, for whatever reason, a chance to play in a quality program and get a quality education.

"Lacrosse is big here. When we play, we know the television stations and the newspapers will be here. We're the show in town. We have established some ties with the junior colleges, and they have been very good to us in filling some voids."

This season, start in goal with Erik Miller, from Herkimer County (N.Y.) Community College. Miller has 130 saves and has a save percentage of .687. Now move ahead to the players in front of him, defensemen Scott Petrie, a senior, and junior Tom McAuliffe. Both are from Herkimer. Petrie is a great leader and take-away player. McAuliffe helps make the defense the strongest unit.

And then there is Ryan Murphy, a transfer from Anne Arundel Community College. His speed has added a new dimension to the midfield, and he has nine goals and 12 assists.

"It seems like there would be some dissension because of the transfers, but it hasn't been that way," said Chris Soper, a senior attackman from Loyola. "As soon as those guys put on the uniforms, they understand what is needed and the tradition here."

The Sea Gulls will need some extra help in the playoffs, because Poe was injured in a bicycle accident last week and likely will miss the rest of the season with a broken left arm. He had nine goals and 17 assists.

Other veterans such as Soper, midfielders Mike Gallagher, John Russell and Mike Esham will help. They started in the program as freshmen. They played on the 1991 team that lost to Hobart, 12-11, in the national championship.

Soper is the second-leading scorer on the team with 36 goals and five assists. Russell and Gallagher have been steady in the midfield. Esham is one of the game's best players and was named the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association Defenseman of the Year in 1991.

"A lot of people might believe we just bring in transfers, but the backbone of this team is the guys who have started in this program," said Berkman.

Now, there are two more stars on the way. Freshman Chris McQueeney of Southern-Anne Arundel has shown versatility by playing in the midfield and defense. Freshman attackman Jason Coffman leads the team in scoring with 48 goals and 36 assists. He has had several big games against the top-ranked teams. He scored five against No. 4 Roanoke and six against No. 3 Nazareth. Plus, he had nine assists last Saturday against Division II West Chester.

"Last year we were playing real well, but lost in the quarterfinal round," said Dave Webb, a senior midfielder from Towson High. "We feel as those we have some business to finish this year."

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