Saturday's entry is the eighth and final installment of a series taking a look at each of the eight Division III programs in this state according to their order of finish from last season. The Sun's lacrosse preview was published Friday. This is Salisbury's turn.
Overview: The Sea Gulls moved one national title closer to Hobart for the most on the Division III level by adding their 10th NCAA championship with a 14-10 victory over SUNY-Cortland last May. The program has an opportunity to match a three-crown run between 2003 and 2005, but that objective could be more difficult to achieve after the team graduated 20 players, including six starters. Salisbury is still ranked third in preseason polls compiled by Lacrosse Magazine and Inside Lacrosse, but their path to Memorial Day weekend has a few more obstacles than usual.
Reason for optimism: The defense bid farewell to starting defenseman Andrew Sellers (53 groundballs and 27 caused turnovers), long-stick midfielder Evan Hockel (40, 33) and short-stick defensive midfielders Parker Dickerson (22, 18) and Dean Rossi (23, 11), but all is not lost on that side of the field. Junior defensemen Zeke Smith (63, 50) and Danny Sherr (20, 11) return as starters and could be joined by one of two sophomores in Knute Kraus (18, 9) or Josh Martin (a transfer from Onondaga Community College). Senior Brett Baer posted 31 groundballs and 20 caused turnovers as a backup long-stick midfielder. Perhaps most important is the presence of junior goalkeeper Alex Taylor (4.92 goals-against average and .660 save percentage. "I think at that end, they're pretty good and they're going to make some offense because they're going to be able to get the ball on the ground," coach Jim Berkman said. "Hopefully, those guys are going to be able to shut down some opponents and give us a few more opportunities at the offensive end, especially early in the season."
Reason for pessimism: Last year's starting attack of Matt Cannone, Erik Krum and Tony Mendes combined for 163 goals and 112 assists, and they're gone. Seniors Evan Hammersley and Stephen Norris, junior Rhett DePol and freshman Brady Dashiell are competing for the right to start, and their development will be key to kick-starting the offense. "I think the biggest thing right now is we show signs of brilliance, but it's the inconsistency," Berkman said. "… They're just kind of figuring it all out. There are signs of brilliance at times. A couple days ago, I thought, 'Man, this is going to be a really good man-up team.' Yesterday, we were struggling to catch every fifth pass. It's just been the consistency part that will hopefully come together as we play together more."
Keep an eye on: Ryan Clarke was the first Division III player off the board of the 2013 Major League Lacrosse draft and for good reason. The senior midfielder registered 35 goals and 29 assists last season and is in the running to be named the National Player of the Year. Berkman said Clarke has seized on the opportunity to lead the team. "I think Ryan's matured to become that player that we've been fortunate to have," Berkman said. "Over the last five or six years, we've had the best middie in the country, and that guy has made everybody around him better because of the attention that he gets. I'm hoping that Ryan will be that guy. There were times last year when Ryan showed signs of that brilliance. He was the guy that took over that Stevenson game, not Sam Bradman. When we were down six goals, he just took over the game. He's got that ability, and he's got to consistently do it."
What he said: Berkman won't argue with the team's place in preseason polls, but he's not exactly throwing in the towel either. He said the pressure on this year's team is much different from the scrutiny surrounding the 2011 squad. "Last year was with all those guys that were pretty good," Berkman said. "After winning it the year before, those guys obviously had the pressure on their backs. If we did anything less than win after winning it the year before, it wouldn't have been a successful season. I think these kids on this team, they believe that if we continue to work hard and improve, we can beat anybody on any given day. Then we'll have a chance hopefully at the end of the season to be in a position to make is a special one."