Salisbury had won 13 consecutive games in this series before Ohio Wesleyan pulled off a 9-8 overtime upset last March. Still, the Sea Gulls own a commanding 29-7 advantage against the Battling Bishops.
No. 9 Ohio Wesleyan has won its first four contests and is seeking its second 5-0 start in as many years. A defense that finished 2015 ranked second in Division III at 5.8 goals allowed per game appears to be nearly as strong this season. The unit has given up six goals or fewer to three opponents and is led by sophomore long-stick midfielder Trent Schulte, who has four goals, one assist, 14 ground balls and five caused turnovers.
No. 2 Salisbury has already defeated three ranked opponents and is looking for its 12th 5-0 opening in the ast 13 years. Two of the team's top three scorers are midfielders. Senior Thomas Cirillo leads the team in assists (11) and points (20), while senior James Burton ranks second in assists (10) and is tied for second in points (15).
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at the Landon School in Bethesda on Sunday at 1 p.m.
1) Shadow Ohio Wesleyan's Marcus Dietz. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Dietz paced the Battling Bishops last season in assists (31) and points (67) and is leading the team again in assists (eight) and points (17). He made quite an impression last year against Salisbury when he posted two goals and one assist in the fourth quarter. Sea Gulls coach Jim Berkman is well aware of Ohio Wesleyan's balance, but said the defense's focus will center on Dietz.
"He's a good player," Berkman said. "He's got both hands, he's quick, he led them in scoring last year and he had a pretty solid game against us. We had the game in hand in the fourth quarter and we were up three goals [at 6-3]. Then they came back and went on a three-goal run and ended up winning by a goal."
2) Value the ball. Opponents have turned the ball over 71 times against the Battling Bishops, who have an athletic, aggressive defense, according to Berkman. Salisbury has fared well through four games, averaging just 11 turnovers. But Saturday's 10-7 victory at No. 5 Gettysburg included a season-worst 15 turnovers and misfiring on four of 14 clears.
"It was a little high on Saturday, and it was four on the clear that were very uncharacteristic of us," Berkman said. "Credit to Gettysburg for a little bit of a trap they were throwing into the middle of the field on Saturday with the ride, but we didn't do a good job with that. We threw the ball over on the clear a couple times, which is very uncharacteristic of us. We can't do that this week."
3) Get the edge on faceoffs. Salisbury junior Duncan Campbell and Ohio Wesleyan senior Zach Friedman are two of the top faceoff specialists in the nation with Campbell having won 63.2 percent (48-for-76) of his draws and Friedman at 70.7 percent (41-for-58). The real attraction might be the battle between the players on the wings. The Battling Bishops will field Schulte and senior short-stick defensive midfielder Cooper Del Zotto (10 ground balls), while the Sea Gulls will send out senior short-stick defensive midfielder Davis Anderson (12) and junior long-stick midfielder Andrew Ternahan (11).
"It'll be a great game to watch because we have Ternahan and Anderson on the wings that really make great plays," Berkman said. "Their two wings are very athletic, too. So it'll be kind of a fun game to watch, especially if it becomes a stalemate at the X and those other guys are picking up the ball and handling it in the middle of the field."