Eleven Salisbury teams have returned to campus with the NCAA Division III championship in tow – including the 2016 version.
The most recent Sea Gulls squad tied a program record with 23 victories in a season, opened the campaign with 18 consecutive wins, and outlasted two-time reigning titlist Tufts, 14-13, in the tournament final on May 29.
Comparing championship teams at Salisbury is like asking coach Jim Berkman to name a favorite child, but he agreed that the latest squad belongs in the same company as the previous 10 that won crowns.
"It's definitely a great team, and it will definitely be up there," he said. "There were really good players on our team, but there wasn't a Sam Bradford and there wasn't a Kylor Berkman. There were just a lot of really good players with great balance. The team had great balance. We had a good attack, a good midfield, good D-middies, good long-sticks, good defense, good goalie. It was just a lot of good balance across the board. It was a team that was really well-rounded, and I think as a group of individuals, they knew that. They knew that it was critical that we were well-rounded, but that we also had to count on our teammates to finish it out."
Only a 10-9 upset loss to York in the Capital Athletic Conference tournament final prevented the 2016 squad from joining seven other Sea Gulls teams from perfect seasons. Berkman said he will leave the debate of which national championship squad was better to the current and former players.
"All of our alumni are pretty close and they get to know everybody over time," he said. "One guy will say, 'Yeah, we won two.' Another guy will say, 'Well, we won three.' Another will say, 'Yeah, you won two and you won three, but we went undefeated.' But in the end, they got a ring. They did a great job, it was a great season, and I enjoyed this team."
With eight of 10 starters projected to return for next spring, the 2017 campaign appears almost as promising for Salisbury. While joking that he is eager to enjoy some vacation, Berkman acknowledged that he is enthusiastic about next season.
"I think we're excited about what we have returning on the offensive end as far as our ability to score goals," he said, referring to the program's entire starting attack and two of its top six midfielders. And we're obviously excited about the defensive end with all of our close D guys back and our long-pole back and our goalie back. That definitely gives you a great foundation to work with."