Defense has keyed Salisbury's five-game run

After a shocking 1-2 start, Salisbury has strung together five consecutive wins and risen to No. 7 in the latest United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association poll. A good deal of the 10-time national champion’s reversal can be traced to the play of the defense.

Over that span, opponents have scored just 19 goals, which averages out to just 3.8 goals per game. Widener, which averages 10.2 goals, was limited to five in a two-goal loss on Feb. 23. No. 10 Gettysburg, which averages 11.2 goals, was held to five in a three-goal setback on March 2. And Ohio Wesleyan, which averages 10.7 goals, was contained to three in a one-goal loss last Sunday.

Coach Jim Berkman said the key to the Sea Gulls’ success on defense has been the emergence of a trio of short-stick defensive midfielders. Freshman Davis Anderson has recorded 23 ground balls and nine caused turnovers, junior Tim Stone 11 ground balls and seven caused turnovers, and freshman Preston Dabbs five ground balls and eight caused turnovers.

“I knew we were going to be pretty good on defense, but I didn’t know our freshman defensive middies were going to be that good,” Berkman said Friday morning. “Preston Dabbs is our best D-middie, very athletic. He’s right up there on the team in takeaways with a short stick. With Davis Anderson and Timmy Stone, those three guys have just been rotating into the two spots, and they’ve been really critical to our success because they’re like having another pole out there on defense. They’re very good individual defenders. … We don’t have to slide as much. If you don’t have to slide a whole lot, it makes playing defense that much easier.”

Junior goalkeeper Alex Taylor hasn’t been forced to make more than eight saves in each of the team’s victories as opposing offenses have been handcuffed. No opponent has taken more than 28 shots against Salisbury, which has benefitted from moving junior Zeke Smith to long-stick midfielder, bumping down senior Brett Baer to close defense, and pairing Josh Martin with sophomore Knute Kraus as the other two starting close defensemen.

“We can exert a little bit more pressure on people to turn the ball over a little bit more,” Berkman said. “And people haven’t been able to get to the goal on us either. So you don’t get as many opportunities.”

The Sea Gulls’ next test will take place Sunday when they visit No. 20 Roanoke. The Maroons are 2-2, but they have scored 32 goals in their two wins, and Berkman said the contest should pit Roanoke’s opportunistic offense against Salisbury’s stingy defense.

“I’d say it’s a pretty typical Roanoke team,” Berkman said. “They had 13 goals against Kenyon and 18 goals against Wooster. They run up and down and they don’t slow down at all. They attack all the time. So we’ve got to be ready to defend at all times because they are definitely a team that likes to the goal in any given situation.”

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