Playing on a starting midfield that is headlined by Division III's Outstanding Player of the Year in Sam Bradman, junior Ryan Clarke might have figured that he'd be able to fly under the radar.
But despite Bradman ranking second on Salisbury in both goals (65) and points (92), Clarke has lately been warranting the attention of opponents' long-stick midfielders. Clarke ranks second on the team in assists (28) and fourth in points (62), but even he acknowledged a little surprise that defenses are more concerned with him than Bradman.
"When you're running with a player like Sam, anytime I get the pole, I guess it shows that they think I'm dangerous," Clarke said Wednesday. "A lot of games, we need to initiate the offense with dodges. They kind of put the pole on me to just change things up and try to slow us down, but when that happens, that opens up things for Sam, and any way I can help him out and free him up, it helps our whole offense."
At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Clarke is two inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than Bradman. But coach Jim Berkman said Clarke might even be faster than his older, more experienced teammate.
"He's a two-headed monster," Berkman said of Clarke. "You've got to pick your poison. If you pick both of them, then you're leaving one of the best attackmen in the country with a short stick. But the other thing that is good about Ryan and Sam with the pole is, just because they've got a pole on doesn't mean that we're going to give the ball to somebody else. We're going to attack with those guys because they can take the poles."
Clarke's success this year isn't exactly stunning. He registered 10 goals and 12 assists in 22 games (including 11 starts) last season as he moved into the first midfield with Bradman and Shawn Zordani.
"I came off hot at the end of last year," Clarke said. "I was excited to get it going this season with a lot of good players returning. I've just tried to run hard and do the best I can. I'm definitely happy with the year I've had."
How SUNY-Cortland attempts to contain Bradman and Clarke is a mystery as coach Steve Beville politely declined to air his strategy during a conference call Tuesday. The Red Dragons could pole both players or just use one long-stick midfielder. Clarke said he's hoping that he gets a short-stick defensive midfielder.
"Obviously, I would prefer a short stick," he said. "But Sam can do anything I could against a short stick. So really, it's pick your poison."