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, which finished 22-1 overall record and 8-0 in the Capital Atlantic Conference.
The good: Nothing might be quite as satisfying or gratifying for the Sea Gulls as capturing their second consecutive NCAA Division III championship and 12th overall. It marked the fifth time the program won back-to-back crowns and put the team within one of Hobart's Division III record of 13 national titles. Salisbury's 15-7 victory over the Rochester Institute of Technology on Memorial Day was a welcomed result after a 12-11 nail-biter against Denison in the semifinals, but coach Jim Berkman was especially pleased to see the players put the game away in the fourth quarter.
"I was really proud of how we finished the game because in that fourth quarter, we were just playing cat and mouse," he said. "We grinded it out on offense, didn't settle for any easy shots. They got impatient and started to foul. We held the ball all the way through until we got a shot clock, and then we went into the man-up and went until the end to take more time off the clock. Then we won the faceoff, and it started all over. They probably had the fewest touches on offense in the fourth quarter than they've probably had in any quarter all year because of the way we finished the game."
» For the third straight year, the program finished the season ranked in the top 10 in both offense and defense, ranking fourth in the former (17.3 goals per game) and seventh in the latter (6.7). Denison was the only other school that ranked in the top 10 in both departments. Berkman has explained that the Sea Gulls have a reputation for lighting up scoreboards without getting similar consideration for keeping opponents off them. He said the team takes pride in maintaining a defensive standard.
"I think a lot of teams in this day and age have heard about Tufts and Lars Tiffany at Brown, and those guys trying to play fast and score more goals," he said. "We've always sped up play, but we're not going to compromise what we do on defense like they do just to try and create possessions. They try to slide so fast that they're just making you play fast and hope that you can't play fast, and they're willing to give up a goal or two because they have good faceoff guys and they want to play faster and faster. We're not going to compromise what we do on defense to generate offense. We're going to generate offense off of our defense, but it's going to be us holding opponents to five or six goals and then creating turnovers, getting the ball off the ground, and getting it to the other end."
» The All-America first team was full of Salisbury players with senior attackman Nathan Blondino, senior midfielder Brendan Bromwell, junior defensemen Kyle Tucker and Will Nowesnick and senior long-stick midfielder Andrew Ternahan. Blondino tied Jason Coffman's single-season record of 134 points and earned Division III's Player of the Year honors. Tucker amassed 67 ground balls and 30 caused turnovers en route to being named the Outstanding Defensive Player, and Ternahan's 85 ground balls, 34 takeaways, three goals and seven assists helped him take home the Long Pole Midfielder award.
"Obviously, Nathan Blondino was the Player of the Year," Berkman said of his team's individual standout performances. "So that's a pretty good start. He tied Jason Coffman's record for points in a season. And then you've got Kyle Tucker as the Defenseman of the Year and Andrew Ternahan as the Long Pole. And how many times do you get two first-team All-American defensemen? Those guys were pretty special players."
The bad: For the second consecutive season, the Sea Gulls' bid for perfection ended with a late-season stumble. After losing to York in the Capital Athletic Conference tournament final a year ago, the team fell, 11-10, in overtime at Cabrini on April 14. In the end, the minor hiccup was a slight stain on the overall resume, but Berkman acknowledged that the missed opportunity will be a talking point for the players from teams that captured NCAA championships in 1994, 1995, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2012 without suffering a loss.
"I think you'll always have that in the back of your mind," he said. "There are other guys from other [Salisbury] teams that you're going to cross paths with, and they're going to say, 'Hey, you had a great year and did a wonderful job, but you weren't undefeated.' That's the reality of the situation here."
» Last year's man-down defense ranked 37th in the nation after killing off 78.2 percent of those opportunities. This past spring, the unit dropped to 73rd with a 74.4 percent success rate against opposing extra-man offenses. Berkman said while junior short-stick defensive midfielders Jeremiah LaClair (33 ground balls and 12 caused turnovers) and Troy Miller (19 GB, 7 CT) grew immensely in their debuts as full-time starters at that position, the man-down defense missed the presence of former short-stick defensive midfielder Davis Anderson.
"Davis Anderson was a tremendous man-down player, and he really made that unit go with his leadership and his ability to make decisions within a man-down and his ability to talk," Berkman said. "We weren't quite there with that part of the equation this year. Hopefully with Jeremiah and Troy being in there for a year, we'll be better at that part next year."
» Senior goalkeeper Colin Reymann ranked second in the country in goals-against average (6.39) and 60th in save percentage (.555), but only earned honorable-mention All-American status. Reymann, a Catonsville resident and Mount Saint Joseph graduate, made only 6.8 saves per game, but did not get many opportunities to make a ton of stops because the defense playing in front of him was so successful at limiting a high volume of shots. In effect, Reymann was a victim of his own defense's success.
"What Colin did over the past two years — and he proved it in both championship games when he was the MVP one year [in 2016] and could have been the MVP this year, too, with 12 saves — was prove that he was one of the best goalies in the country, and he didn't get recognized because the defense was almost too good," Berkman said. "But on the biggest stage when we really needed him, he made the biggest saves. He was just a tremendous goalie."
Personnel changes: Graduation gutted the entire starting attack of Blondino (61 goals and 73 assists), Carson Kalama (69 G, 19 A) and Nick Garbarino (68 G, 20 A). Freshman Griffin Moroney (8 G, 1 A) is the heir apparent to Kalama as a crease finisher, and sophomore Kyle Richbourg (4 G, 2 A) and freshman Pierre Armstrong (2 G, 2 A) are two more options. But Berkman said the coaches are giving serious thought to moving freshman Josh Melton (24 G, 20 A) from midfield to attack, where he made three starts in place of Garbarino early in the season.
"Obviously, that's a big hole to fill, and we're not quite sure what we're going to do at this point as far as Josh Melton," he said. "Do we leave Josh Melton on that first midfield with [sophomore] Corey Gwin and move [junior] Garrett [Reynolds] up [from the second line]? That's a pretty established midfield to start the year with, and a lot of coaches would like to go to bat with that first midfield. Or do you put Melton down on attack and get another experienced player there and bump up some other guys that have been waiting in the wings? I think that's going to play out a little bit when we see how some of the other guys do on attack."
» The midfield also suffered some deep cuts. Gone from the first line is Bromwell (32 G, 25 A), and Adam Huber (26 G, 11 A) and Kevin McDermott (17 G, 15 A) have graduated from the second unit. If Melton stays in the midfield, he, Gwin and Reynolds (25 G, 16 A) would start. But Berkman pointed out that the coaches can turn to a number of players who have been champing at the bit for more playing time.
"There's [sophomore] Zach Pompea who played on the third line and has been waiting in the wings," he said. "[Junior] Hunter Schaeffer played a lot on the second line and kind of rotated in there as the fourth guy, and he's done that for the last two years. He'll be a senior. And there's a couple of really good freshmen that are ready to break out — Emory Wongus, Bradley Greik — and ready to compete. And there's a [sophomore] kid named Tyler Snyder that at the end of the season was really challenging to be on the second line, but I didn't want to break it up in practice every day. But he should have been on that second line. So there's a group of about five or six kids that can shoot the ball pretty hard and have been in the system that we feel really good about."
» The defense will miss Ternahan and defenseman Aaron Leeds (63 GB, 40 CT), but junior Cory Berry (21 GB, 23 CT) is poised to be the top long-stick midfielder, and freshman Drew Borkowicz (10 GB, 8 CT) made one start for Nowesnick (65 GB, 44 CT) when he was sidelined by a concussion. The more pressing concern is finding a replacement for Reymann. Sophomore Hayden Donnelly (Broadneck) and freshman Chandler Dabbs are candidates, but Berkman said freshman Brandon Warren, Reymann's top backup, is the incumbent to start in the cage.
"He was pretty solid," Berkman said of the Forest Hill resident and Calvert Hall graduate. "At times, he was truly outstanding in practice. He's a really good goalie. So going into next year on paper, he's probably the leading candidate, but there are a couple of other guys that are pretty solid, too. We'll see how all that plays out, but Brandon definitely warrants on paper to be the No. 1 guy going into fall ball based on what transpired last year because he was a good player day in and day out."
Forecast for 2018: Sunny. After overshadowing the Division III landscape for much of the past 23 years, is next spring the moment when Salisbury slides back to the rest of the pack? That outlook would seem to be supported by the players who graduated — a group that also includes primary faceoff specialist Duncan Campbell (57.8 percent on 237-for-410 and 109 GB) and fourth defenseman Pax Howard (31 GB, 11 CT). But if there is a program that has proven it has the depth and talent to bounce back quickly, it's Salisbury. The defense should remain a strength with Tucker and Nowesnick down low and LaClair, Miller and Berry up top. And sophomore T.J. Logue (58.5 percent on 121 of 207 and 54 GB) should replace Campbell easily. Maybe Salisbury won't be viewed as a lock for the title game again, but there's enough for the program to contend.