Top-flight Gulls win again

The Baltimore Sun

Foxborough, Mass. -- It's not really fair to call Salisbury a Division III lacrosse dynasty.

Dynasties, you see, eventually give way to other dynasties.

What Sea Gulls coach Jim Berkman has built is more like an empire. And from the look of things, his program plans to rule forever.

Salisbury won its second straight Division III national championship yesterday, defeating SUNY Cortland, 19-13, in front of an announced 24,317 at Gillette Stadium. It was the fifth title in the past six years for the Sea Gulls, who are 124-2 since 2004, and eighth overall.

Even more remarkable was the fact that Salisbury (22-0) won despite playing with a goalkeeper who, as recently as two weeks ago, was a fourth-stringer.

Senior Nick Fiorentino - who became a starter only a week ago when two Salisbury goalies were suspended from the team after being charged with vandalism and another couldn't play because of injuries - made 14 saves against Cortland (18-2). He also delivered a big hit in the first quarter on one of the Red Dragons' attackmen, and that physical play fired up his team and inspired a victory that was never really in doubt.

"There was a lot of emotion, excitement, nervousness being thrown in there like that," Fiorentino said. "I didn't want to be the guy that was the reason for a loss. But it was a dream come true. This is unbelievable."

Fiorentino, who plans to go into coaching and will be a member of Berkman's staff next season as a graduate assistant, showed just how much depth the Sea Gulls program has. This season, the morning after every game, even though he was unlikely to see any action, he would knock on Berkman's office door at 8 a.m., hoping to watch film and scout opponents.

"He is a student of the game," said Berkman, who has the best tournament record (41-12) of any coach in NCAA history. "Nick is a tribute to all those guys who have never touched the field that have made our program great in practices."

Salisbury's offense also had plenty to do with yesterday's dominant performance, especially its first-line midfield. Kylor Berkman scored five times and had two assists, Bruce Richardson had five goals and Mike Von Kamecke added three more.

"We were joking about mentioning it, but we call ourselves the Aces," Kylor Berkman said. "We have three solid guys on the first midfield line. VK [Von Kamecke] is a shooter, Bruce is a dodger and I'm a feeder. We jelled really well together. It's hard for a lot of teams to stop us, because whoever you put the pole on, another person is going to step up."

Salisbury, which put 25 of its 33 shots on the cage, jumped out to a 7-3 lead in the first quarter, and the game was never really in doubt from there. The seven first-quarter goals were a championship game record. Cortland goalie Michael Robinson had a difficult day, recording just six saves and turning the ball over twice. Red Dragons coach Steve Beville pulled him briefly in the third quarter, but his replacement, Matt Hipenbecker, fared no better.

"Michael was obviously struggling," Beville said. "I certainly don't put all our ills and troubles on Mike's shoulders, but he was having a tough time."

For Salisbury's coach, it was another satisfying season in a career that has spanned 20 years at the school. Even though most coaches would try to trade up and grab a Division I job, Berkman says he's not interested.

"You know those guys who look at the house on the other side of the street and say, 'I want to live in their house,' or 'Why are they driving a better car?' I'm not that guy," Berkman said. " ... I'm a guy who you go into a place and you plant some seeds and you stick around to see those seeds sown. ... I love Salisbury, and I love what Division III athletics are all about."

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