NCAA Division III Weekly Notebook
It's something that we've known from the beginning: entering this season, Salisbury was going to undergo a huge rebuilding process after the graduation of last year's prolific class. Sure, there was still plenty of talent on the roster — there always is — but the 1-2 start to the season wasn't a huge surprise.
More alarming was just how much time that Jim Berkman and his staff had to take just to reestablish the fundamental tenets of their program.
"Let's put it this way, there was so much new blood that you couldn't take anything for granted," said Berkman. "To the point where after the second game, my coaches were furious at how we warmed up against Lynchburg. They said, 'Coach, we have to practice warming up. We have so many guys who don't know what a Sea Gull does before a game, how we go on the field and how we do the drills.' Every little thing you'd take for granted that they'd know, we've had to coach this year."
The early season losses were eye-openers for the Gulls, but they also showed everyone involved that they weren't too far off. Salisbury had an opportunity to take a one-goal lead late in the game against the Hornets and missed a golden chance to win the W&L game in the first overtime.
"Even though we weren't playing that well back then, we were still in a position to win those games," Berkman said. "We definitely are getting better on offense. We're definitely finding our guys at attack, and we didn't know who they were at that point. The maturation of the first midfield line with Eric Kluge and Tyler Smith finally coming back from injury and Greg Korvin was also important. That's a pretty formidable line that produces opportunities for everybody out there because they force teams to slide."
It would make sense that the team would be hurt both talent-wise and psychologically when All-American middie Ryan Clarke was lost for the season. A Tewaaraton watch list member and an MLL draftee, Clarke was the primary initiator of the Gulls' offense. Berkman prefers to look at what was gained rather than lost.
"After Ryan went out, the credit goes to those guys who stepped up," he said. "We lost those two games with Ryan. Then we won nine games in a row, and 11 of the last 12. I'd like to give the credit to the kids who stepped up. They've developed, improved and given us a chance to win now."
A constant for Salisbury, and one of the key reasons the Gulls have been able to endure some of the offensive growing pains, has been the play of the defense. Berkman pinpoints the play of freshman defensive middie Preston Dabbs and junior goalie Alex Taylor as being critical to the backline in addition to moving junior Zeke Smith from close defense to long-stick midfield. Salisbury is allowing just 5.12 goals per game, and only four in conference play.
"We've always embraced the role of being a great defense," Berkman said. "We've gotten a lot of credit over the years for being great on offense, but if you track back to any of those teams, they were very good on defense and didn't allow too many goals. They allowed the offense to score because they could get the ball on the ground and get it up the field. This team is no different."
Berkman and his staff are no longer teaching the little things. The team is now proficient in its warm-up drills. The Gulls have now moved on to postseason mode, with the top seed in CAC playoffs locked up after Saturday's rout of St. Mary's. This Salisbury edition still isn't close to last year's juggernaut, but every day is step closer to being a threat when tourney time rolls around.
"The exciting thing is every day you go out there, you see the improvement," Berkman said. "Our second midfield line is really coming along. Chris Biank has given us a real one-two punch on faceoffs with Tyler Granelli. There's been a lot of improvement and we're excited about where we're at."
- After a fruitless trip to Rochester in which it lost to both St. John Fisher and RIT, Endicott was sitting at 3-3 and on the cusp of a rough season considering what was left on the schedule. Since that point, however, the Gulls have rattled off seven straight victories, including wins over Amherst, Springfield and former No. 4 Tufts last Tuesday. They're now 10-3 with key games against Bowdoin next Saturday and then the season finale against Commonwealth Coast rival Western New England. So is Endicott now in the discussion for an at-large bid if they don't get the CCC auto-bid?
In the discussion, for sure, but they'll have to go at least 3-1 in the final four games of the season (meaning a win over either Bowdoin or WNE) and then advance to the CCC finals. That would leave them at 14-5 with a resume that will keep them around until the final gun. With all of that said, the South is looking like it will be the power region in the Pool C raffle, so the Gulls would be wise to win their league.
- I put together a story on Endicott's outstanding FOGO Sam Ozycz, which was posted last Friday...Mt. St. Vincent registered its first-ever win over Maritime (N.Y.) in Thursday's 9-8 victory...Transylvania capped off its season with a win over Hanover, finishing with a respectable 9-5 record...Birmingham-Southern has to win the SAA tournament just to stay eligible for Pool B...it has no NCAA prospects (especially playing in Cabrini's conference), but Centenary upped its record to 10-1...Kean is the same boat (with Montclair ruling the Skyline), but the Cougars are 12-1...Immaculata's Bhelly Bagbonon dished out his 100th assist over the weekend...Goucher's Connor Mishaw made his 50th career start in goal in the Gophers 11-10 overtime victory over Catholic. Mishaw made 12 saves...Centre (9-2) is an intriguing team as the SAA gets set to start its tournament.
- Sophomore John Thompson set Christopher Newport's single season points mark (47) in the Captains win over St. Vincent...Clark (Mass.) matched the school record for wins (7) with a 13-6 victory over Regis (Mass.)...Stevenson is the prohibitive favorite to win the MAC Commonwealth, but they will get a stern test from Widener on Saturday. The Pride has won six straight and is playing outstanding defense. Keep an eye on it...the season began with a lot of promise, but Whittier had its postseason hopes dashed with a 12-3 loss to Otterbein. The Poets will be unable to get to the .500 mark to keep them eligible.
- Washington & Lee, not exactly a team known for its offensive output, has hung 27 goals on back-to-back conference opponents (Bridgewater, Randolph)...Grant Ferguson had five goals and three assist to lead Eastern past King's, 15-6, in a clash atop the MAC Freedom...Roanoke pushed its winning streak to six, but it wasn't easy. The Maroons needed a furious rally to beat Hampden-Sydney, 12-11...the Denison-Ohio Wesleyan clash on Wednesday won't disappoint. Top seed in the NCAC is on the line...York not only established the season record for wins (12) in the win over Mary Washington, but sophomore Tyler Hutson became the first Spartan to eclipse the 100-goal mark.