Before there was lacrosse for Kylor Berkman, there was soccer.

"When I was 12 or 13, soccer was my favorite sport," he said. "And then when I got to high school, I kind of fell in love with lacrosse all over again. I didn't see myself following through with lacrosse all through college, but that's the way it turned out, and it worked out."

Which is unfortunate for SUNY Cortland, Gettysburg and the rest of the Division III schools that have watched Berkman, a senior midfielder for the Salisbury men's lacrosse team, develop into perhaps the best player in the country.

Berkman, who leads the No. 5 Sea Gulls (14-3) into the annual "War on the Shore" with host Washington College (9-5) at 1 p.m. Saturday, is the Division III National Player of the Year and two-time Midfielder of the Year. He powers a Salisbury program that has captured eight national championships - including the past two - and he ranks second in Division III in points (74) and third in assists (39).

"He's beaten me enough times," said Cortland coach Steve Beville, whose Red Dragons lost to the Sea Gulls in the past two national title games. "He's certainly one of the top - if not the top - players in Division III."

Despite the numbers and praise, however, Berkman was left off the list of 21 finalists for this year's Tewaaraton Trophy, which is awarded to the country's best player.

Berkman shrugged off the snub, saying: "It doesn't surprise me. It doesn't offend me, either. It's a [Division I] award. Someone from D-I is going to win it."

Berkman's primary concern is helping Salisbury win a ninth national title. Opposing defenses have tried various ways to force the Sea Gulls to go to someone else.

Early in the season, a few teams assigned a long-stick defenseman to shadow Berkman and deny him the ball. Berkman said No. 3 Stevenson planted a defender in the middle of Salisbury's offensive zone who would slide to and double-team Berkman as soon as he dodged.

Despite the attention, Berkman continues to flourish. He has already tied his career high of 35 goals, and he will likely lead the team in assists for the fourth consecutive year.

Berkman's father, Jim, who is the Sea Gulls' coach, said his son has worked hard to make himself a better player. Kylor Berkman has run 1 1/2 miles in less than nine minutes, bench-pressed his body weight 10 times, and completed 15 pull-ups and 25 dips. This year, he did 72 dips and 34 pull-ups, which are club records.

"We thought he was going to be pretty good, but each year, to his credit, he's gotten better," Jim Berkman said.

UMBC and Towson recruited Kylor Berkman when he was at Parkside High, and Brown University visited the family home in Salisbury. But Berkman said he has no regrets about his decision to play in Division III.

"Playing at the next level would have definitely been interesting in terms of where my skills could have gone had I gone to Division I," he said. "But I've put that in the past. We got the chance to win two national championships, and hopefully we'll have a chance at a third this year."

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