Here is the final installment of a series that checks in with the eight Division III programs in the state to give a glimpse into the past and the future. Teams are scheduled to appear according to the chronological order in which their seasons ended. Thursday's visit was with Stevenson. Friday's visit is with Salisbury.
The good: The Sea Gulls opened the campaign with 18 consecutive wins before absorbing a stunning loss to Capital Athletic Conference rival York on April 30. But that setback was barely a blip on the radar as the team rallied for five straight victories and edged Tufts 14-13 to capture the program's 11th NCAA Division III championship. The school now trails Hobart by just two for the most national titles on the Division III level, but coach Jim Berkman said the 11th crown is just as meaningful as the first.
"It's one of the three greatest things in life," he said. "The others are getting married and having children. Those things can happen just a couple times, while this thing can go on and on. It never gets old, that's for sure."
**Salisbury finished the season scoring 16.3 goals per game and surrendering just 6.8. The team ranked seventh in offense and 10th in defense, becoming the only school in the country to rank in the Top 10 in both categories. The ability to strike that balance between the two sides of the field was a point of pride for Berkman & Co.
"We've always gotten a lot of recognition for offense, but through the years, we've always been real good on defense," he said. "We talk about all the goals we score, but we have played really good defense. The defense hasn't gotten the recognition that it deserves over the years because the offense is scoring so many goals, but the reason the offense is scoring that many goals is because we're playing great defense and putting the ball on the ground."
**Much was made about the group of seniors who avoided becoming the first class to graduate without an NCAA title since
20021993. Naturally, there was a healthy amount of elation for the seniors for accomplishing what they did and being able to ride into the proverbial sunset. But Berkman said that group left a legacy that the players should be proud of.
"I think they'll be remembered as a group that grinded," he said. "They worked really hard and were a group that inspired those around them with their efforts and accountability. They were awful good leaders. … And there were other guys who weren't captains, but were great leaders and worked real hard and were able to attain a high level of success that maybe wouldn't have happened if they weren't such a great group as a whole."
The bad: Racing to a 12-4 advantage with 9 minutes, 12 seconds left in the third quarter, the Sea Gulls appeared to be well on their way to a rout of Tufts in the title game on May 29. But the Jumbos mounted a comeback, scoring nine of the last 11 goals before being denied in the final seconds when senior attackman John Uppgren's one-timer from the left side of the crease was turned back by Salisbury junior goalkeeper Colin Reymann. Berkman admitted that the final minutes were anxious ones for him.
"I was worried because we just didn't have the ball," he said. "They're a great team on offense, but I knew we could do it if we got the ball. There was no doubt in my mind going into that game that we were going to score goals if we had the ball. But going into the game, the question was, were we going to win enough faceoffs and get enough possessions to give ourselves a chance?"
**The Sea Gulls tied a program record for wins in a season with 23 this past spring. But they narrowly missed an opportunity to set a new mark because of that 10-9 loss to York in the Capital Athletic Conference tournament final on April 30. The team also failed to join the squads that captured NCAA championships in 1994, 1995, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2012 that capped perfect campaigns, which Berkman could foresee as an irksome note for this team in the future.
"I think down the road, they'll probably have something like, 'Hey, we let one get away. We could have been considered among the elite of Salisbury teams,'" he speculated. "But by the same token, they're going to remember that, 'Hey, maybe that was the key to getting us refocused,' like it was in 2003 when we lost to Lynchburg in the regular season and we closed out the deal. But I know how competitive guys like [senior short-stick defensive midfielders] Preston Dabbs and Davis Anderson are. In the back of their minds, they're probably thinking, 'If we hadn't slipped up that day…'"
**Reymann started the last 14 games, posting a 6.42 goals-against average and a .586 save percentage. Reymann, who had missed the first 10 contests after fracturing a knuckle on his hand on the first day of practice in the preseason, solidified the position that had been shared by sophomores Joshua Dean (6.34 GAA, .515 save percentage) and Anthony Stavrakis (9.75 GAA, .447 save percentage). Berkman acknowledged the instability in the cage prior to Reymann's return.
"Without Colin, it was a little but of a crapshoot in the goal," Berkman said. "When he came back and started to have a couple good games and continued to get better in every game, I think we thought that the missing piece of the puzzle may be there. The attack had settled in, the middies had been there the whole time, [junior long-stick midfielder Andrew] Ternahan was having a banner year, but it's awful hard to win a championship game without an All-American goalie or a kid that everybody is talking about in that mix. I think if Colin would have had a whole season like he had in the last four or rive games, he would have been an All American. When he finally came back and got going, he definitely gave us a chance to make a good run."
Personnel changes: Graduation sapped the starting midfield of Thomas Cirillo (54 goals and 32 assists) and James Burton (33 G, 51 A). The return of junior Brendan Bromwell (25 G, 15 A) should stabilize the line, and Berkman said sophomore Garrett Reynolds (30 G, 5 A) from the second midfield and junior Kevin McDermott (6 G, 2 A) from the third line are poised to join as starters.
"I think the missing pieces obviously have to prove themselves, but I think the missing pieces are in place," Berkman said. "There are definitely some kids there who are very hungry for those spots."
**The defense did not go unscathed as the unit bade farewell to Dabbs (20 ground balls, 23 caused turnovers and one goal) and Anderson (64 GB, 21 CT, 3 G, 2 A). Dabbs was an All-American first-team selection in each of his last three seasons, and Anderson exemplified the term "unsung hero." Sophomore Troy Miller (7 GB, 2 CT, 4 G) and freshman Parker Stevens are slated to fill the holes, but Berkman said the task of replacing Dabbs and Anderson will not be easy.
"Those two are tough to replace because they're four-year starters," he said. "You have one of the best cover guys in D-3 that you don't have to slide to as he takes one of the best midfielders out of the game. And then Davis Anderson did everything. Everyone talks about Preston, but Davis took wings on faceoffs, was our man-down player, was one of our best ground ball players, and was awful tough to beat."
**The offense ranking seventh in the nation was buoyed by the evolution of the second midfield, but the unit will undergo a makeover after the graduation of Jake Rotman (17 G, 14 A) and Christian Ottenritter (12 G, 9 A). Reynolds, Rotman and Ottenritter combined for 59 goals and 28 assists, and Berkman was not shy about giving that trio plenty of playing time to complement the first line of Cirillo, Burton and Bromwell. Developing a second midfield will be key once again next year, and Berkman thinks sophomore Hunter Schaeffer (5 G, 1 A), and freshmen Corey Gwin (2 G) and Zach Pompea (1 G) can fill out the second midfield.
"Those three kids right there, they're drooling to play," Berkman said. "They're all good. And there are three or four really talented freshmen that are coming and are athletic that will be knocking on that door, too."
Forecast for 2017: Sunny. Lacrosse Magazine and Inside Lacrosse have already anointed Salisbury as the preseason No. 1 team in Division III, which is not terribly surprising. The offense returns its entire attack of juniors Nathan Blondino, Carson Kalama, Brady Dashiell and Nick Garbarino, while the defense welcomes back all four long-poles in sophomores Kyle Tucker and Will Nowesnick and juniors Aaron Leeds and Ternahan and its goalie in Reymann. Replacing the holes in the midfield gives pause for concern, but the program has traditionally been one of the most adept at developing talent and depth. The Sea Gulls usually test their mettle against one of the strongest non-conference schedules in the country, and Hobart's Division III record of 13 national titles is not nearly as distant as it once was.