March 1, 2013

Coyne v. Censer: Salty Times for the Sea Gulls

by Jac Coyne and Joel Censer | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Although he didn't play Wednesday against McDaniel, Ryan Clarke (above) and Salisbury will once again be in the brackets come May. With Stevenson out of the conference, the CAC automatic qualifier is in the bag regardless of early season results.
© Kevin P. Tucker

I was ready to shut down my browser.

Salisbury, locked in a double overtime game with Washington & Lee, had a two-on-one break and had a shot on the doorstep. It was the classic Sea Gull finish. A team plays its heart out for over 60 minutes and in a flash, Salisbury rips it out. As I raised my index finger above the mouse, ready to chalk up another win for the champs, I hesitated.

Did that hit a pipe?

Sure enough, Wade Korvin's bid to end the contest drew iron and bounced away. How could that happen? And then just 75 seconds later, W&L's Luke Heinsohn delivered his first goal of the season to give the Generals the 7-6 victory, dealing the Gulls their second-straight defeat and dropping them below .500 for the first time since 1989.

Funny things can happen in lacrosse, but it never happens in that situation. Not to Salisbury. That's something that happens to the Gulls' opponents, not Division III's dynastic regime. The last time Salisbury showed that kind of ineptitude in situations they typically command, it was in the 2010 national championship game when the Gulls rocketed fast-break shots 15 yards over the Tufts' goal on their way to a stunning defeat.

The program made up for that setback with a 19-7 humiliation of the Jumbos in the '11 title tilt followed by a perfect season in 2012. Should we expect the same type of answer on a micro level after coming up short against Lynchburg and Washington & Lee?

Probably, but there are some red flags for the Gulls so far. The W&L game wasn't a fluky, one-time thing. In the one-goal setback to Lynchburg, Salisbury was missing shots it usually converts and was allowing goals it nearly always stops. Even a victory last Saturday against Widener, 7-5, raised some questions. The Gulls got barely half their shots on goal, made only five saves and were locked in a one-goal game until less than two minutes remaining.

Granted, that 2011 edition of the Gulls took a little while to find its identity, scoring less than 10 goals in three of its first six games. The only difference is Salisbury eventually won those games. They had some things to figure out, but they were never truly threatened. This team has been under pressure in three of its five games so far, meaning this could be a year unlike any other for the Gulls.

Are you buying any of this?

Me neither.

As much as I'd like to write a eulogy for Salisbury, it's a fool's errand. First, we knew this was going to be an inexperienced team after last year's monster class graduated. It was going to be a work in progress that would more than likely yield a rugged team come May. Second, we knew entering this season that Salisbury was going to the tournament regardless of the regular season record. If Stevenson was still in the CAC and the automatic qualifier was in doubt, there probably would be more angst. But as much as I want to pump up St. Mary's or Mary Washington or York into a conference contender, it's just not likely.

Yes, Salisbury probably has at least one more loss on its schedule, and, no, the Gulls won't be perched in the South's No. 1 seed when May rolls around. But they will be there on Selection Sunday, and they're going to be a lot better than they are now.

So Joel, did I have you wavering at all on the Gulls? What's your read on this edition of the Band of Berkmans?

CENSER: We had to know there were going to be growing pains on the Eastern Shore when the Gulls graduated some of the best players in Division III history and replaced them with mostly greenhorns. And there are worse things then getting nipped by two veteran ODAC outfits primed for big seasons.

Even in their worst years, the Gulls have to be in the title conversation. They've earned that.

Division III lacrosse ain't the parity-obsessed NFL. People can point all day to new teams and various upsets, but over the last decade three -- count 'em, three -- programs have won a title. In my mind, if you have nabbed one over the last five years (and Salisbury's done a bit better than that) you are on what is a very shortlist of teams able to do it again.

Like any Jim Berkman squad, Salisbury and its young players will continue to get better and as the season progresses. On Wednesday, the Gulls destroyed McDaniel 16-3 sans POY candidate/primary initiator Ryan Clarke.

Still, this is clearly not the same dominant group of the past few years. Sam Bradman — especially with those two-man pick games up top — may as well have been unguardable. Tony Mendes could get topside on any defenseman. Krum and Cannone were world-class finishers. And those guys were just the tip of a very sharp Gold and Maroon spear.

In my estimation, Salisbury is a pesky, proud team that no one is going to want to play in May. But having the kind of depth and elite talent needed to win a title is different than the kind need to play spoiler. The Gulls will get there. Just maybe not this season.

Onto the games, where Censer rallied with a strong week to knot the competition up at 6-4...

No. 5 Cabrini (1-1) at No. 3 Lynchburg (2-0) – Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: This is going to be a great game, however, it's very difficult to pin down a winner. Lynchburg was looking great after the win over Salisbury, and then turns around and beats (an admittedly good) F&M team, 6-4. The Hornets trailed at halftime, mustered only 27 shots and were beat on faceoffs. Meanwhile, the typically defensive-minded Cavaliers beat Haverford 18-12, allowing eight EMO chances and got beat in the ground ball battle. Nevermind being dominated by Dickinson on Wednesday.

This game is of no consequence for Cabrini other than as a tune-up for another CSAC joyride, although a win would be nice for seeding. A win for Lynchburg is another chip in its Pool C stack (if they need it), but they need this win to prove to themselves that the F&M game was just a scoring anomaly. The Hornets will get more goals, but Cabrini finds a way to score one more. Cavs, 10-9. 

CENSER: Ouch. The Cabrini offense came back to earth during a mid-week meet-and-greet with the Dickinson buzzsaw. Bobby Thorp, Corey Elmer and Co., will look to get the Cavaliers back on track against another no frills, defensive-oriented, team in Lynchburg.

It's a long, grueling trip, however, from the Main Line to central Virginia. While I'm not totally sold on the Hornet offense, Lynchburg won't be intimidated by Cabrini's pressure either. The Hornets take advantage of enough of the Cavaliers' miscues to grind this one out. 9-7, 'Burg.

No. 15 Gettysburg (2-0) at No. 10 Salisbury (3-2) – Saturday, 12 p.m.

COYNE: Salisbury seems to be the logical pick, but Gettysburg is built to give the current Gulls edition of the problems. They've got a stingy defense, an experienced faceoff man in Nick Avedisian (27-for-43 so far this year) and opportunistic goal-scorers in Robby Maddux and Martin Manilla. This one will come down to goalie play.

J.T. McCook is the man for the Bullets and has been decent so far. Salisbury's Alex Taylor has decent numbers, and he's a weapon when he comes out of the cage on ground balls, but he's let in a couple of softies this year. He's due for a rebound game and I think this is the one. Gulls, 8-6.

CENSER: This game used to be the benchmark in the South a half decade ago, back when Salisbury's Kylor Berkman and Matt Hickman were matching up with star defenders Andrew McGann and Tommy Kehoe.

Since Kyle McGrath graduated in 2010, the Bullets have been a bit goal-starved. But in 2013, with Manilla dispensing the pill and freshmen sensation Jameson Smith providing some midfield spark, the Gettysburg offense has looked more explosive. I think the Bullets will be able to score against the Gulls while steady Matt Canter and a reinvigorated McCook can clamp down on defense. Gburg reclaims some 2009 mojo here, 11-10.

No. 9 Washington & Lee (4-0) at No. 13 Washington College (1-0) – Sunday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: After posting two of the most impressive road wins you can grab, the Generals head out on the road once again against a ranked team, and they'll have to continue to grind. W&L does have a two-game winning streak against the Shoremen, and will have the services of Joe LaSala, who can take WAC star attackman Bennett Cord out of the equation without any help.

Washington College was able to eradicate their Gopher problem last week in impressive fashion, but the Generals pose a whole different set of problems. This is an experienced group coming out of Lexington and now they know how to win the close ones. It'll be tight again, and it'll be W&L again. Generals, 8-7.

CENSER: The Gennie Grindathon returns to where the hype machine first started: the Eastern Shore. At this point, we have a pretty good idea how Washington & Lee is going to play: the Generals are going to defend, they're going to possess, and they're probably going to score just enough.

But the addition of freshman face-off man Michael Trapp (14-21 against Goucher) is a huge boon to a Shoremen team that struggled at the X last year. I think the extra possessions give Cord and the rest of the WAC offense some extra breathing room. Shoremen blow by the Road Warriors here, 12-6.

Censer's Pick

Haverford (0-1) vs. St. Lawrence (0-0) – Saturday, 1 p.m. (at Greenwich, Conn.)

CENSER: You knew it was coming right? The homer hat is on. Haverford had its moments against Cabrini, but also found out (by getting an 18-spot dropped on them) what life's like in the post-Banno, Dillon Hamill era.

This game, no matter which team garnered the preseason laurels, is always close. While St. Lawrence is upstate tough, the Larries still have to be thawing. Scott Chanelli displays his defensive chops and Geoff Geppert pumps in a few as the Squirrels roll, 12-8.

COYNE: The Black Squirrles are definitely at an advantage here with one game under its belt and the confidence that, at times, it could run with a power team like Cabrini. And the fact that they don't have to drive all the way to Canton for this neutral site contest is also a bonus. But is Haverford ready to grind?

St. Lawrence has to replace a couple of poles from last year, but Mike Mahoney was sanguine about how his backline was going to perform this year. And even the offense, which has never been a run-and-gun outfit, has plenty of weapons returning, including a healthy Mac Johnson (18 goals in 12 games last year). The Squirrels will get up early due to their game experience, but the Saints will come marching back, 8-7.

Coyne's Pick

No. 12 Western New England (0-0) at No. 2 Stevenson (3-0) – Friday, 3:30 p.m.

COYNE: Stevenson plays the best schedule around, and for that they should be lauded, but there are repercussions. Playing two rough, defensive-minded teams like RIT and Western New England in a four-day span is going to leave a mark, both physically and mentally. It's not unlike what May will be for the Mustangs, and that's probably why Paul Cantabene set these games up.

Last year, an unheralded Golden Bears squad came to Owings Mills and led the Mustangs after one quarter and the game was still tied heading into the fourth before Stevenson scraped out a 6-4 win. That's the kind of slog it's going to be again. While WNE will be raw on offense, the defense could be one of the best around. Mark Pannenton goes double-post and in with under a minute left to save the 'Stangs, 7-6.

CENSER: WNE deserves credit too. Playing your first game of the season hundreds of miles from your home turf and against a team that already has a bunch of contests under its their belt (and who isn't shy about pressuring opponents all over the field), can't be too fun either.

I'm tempted to take WNE as defenseman Aaron Harris, d-mid Corey Johnson and now-fulltime keeper Brandon Body will provide a stiff test for an already weary Stevenson offense. But the Mustangs have a good backline too, and I think freshman keeper Dimitri Pecunes responds to Cantabene's newspaper quotes. Mustangs survive another Bear attack, 10-8.


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