February 13, 2009

Salisbury Eyes Another Three-Peat

from press release

SALISBURY, Md. - Good things happen in threes. That is what the Salisbury University men's lacrosse team believes when the two-time NCAA Division III national champions take the field in 2009 with the goal of capturing a third straight title.

The positive reinforcement can be applied to several other records on the horizon in '09 for the maroon and gold. The Sea Gulls enter the season with a 45-game winning streak which ranks third all-time in men's lacrosse history behind two longer streaks held by Salisbury. Senior Kylor Berkman has two Division III Midfielder of the Year awards under his belt to go with two first-team All-American honors, he is favored to earn a third in both categories this season. Plus if Salisbury is able to win a third straight national title this season that would give the program nine total championships, three squared.

It is hard to talk about the SU men's lacrosse program and not mention numbers. The Sea Gulls enter the season as the perennial top-ranked team in various lacrosse preseason polls. Salisbury's storied lacrosse program has produced an amazing 167 All-Americans and is home to the all-time winningest men's lacrosse coach in Jim Berkman. Salisbury will also tote around several winning streaks in '09 including consecutive wins (45), a 74-0 record at home, 77-0 record during the regular season and a perfect 100-0 in the Capital Athletic Conference. In fact, the Sea Gulls have never lost a conference game since it joined the CAC in 1995 and has reeled off 14 consecutive CAC titles.

"I don't think the kids get pressured by the streaks. I think our tradition is so good that everyone thinks we are going to win every game," said SU coach Jim Berkman, who enters his 21st season at the helm. "I think that is good and bad because it gives our guys confidence when we go on the field. It is almost like they are going to play well because they wear the Sea Gull uniform."

Half of the '09 roster has never worn the maroon and gold uniform as Salisbury looks to replace 12 seniors and six starters from last season's championship squad. SU ushers in 23 new faces to the program including a 16-player freshman class. There are 17 upperclassmen this season led by seven seniors. In the past three seasons the Sea Gulls have only lost one game, the 2006 national championship game in overtime, while they have posted a 65-1 record and won back-to-back championships. In the past six seasons the Gulls have won five national titles, recorded four undefeated seasons and posted a stunning 124-2 record.

"The expectations are always going to be here whether we have won or lost the national championship the year before," said Berkman. "It's the players and the tradition our teams want to live up to."

Salisbury has some shoes to fill at the attack unit as the Sea Gulls graduated 159 points between Matt Hickman and Greg Titus. In two seasons the two players scored 267 goals and recorded 344 points. The interesting fact is that both players had breakout seasons during their junior and senior seasons. SU will need new attackmen to emerge from the shadows and pick-up the scoring slack.

"We need someone on attack to come out of nowhere [this season]. Someone that doesn't have any stats," said Berkman. "We have guys that have been waiting. We need someone to have a breakout season."

Junior Jake DeLillo (32 goals, 12 assists) moved into a starting role halfway through the '08 season and finished sixth on the team in points scored (44). He will move from the right-hand attack spot to the crease this season. Fellow junior Mike Winter (eight goals, two assists) will be positioned on the crease as well. Senior Stephen Krasco (14 goals, five assists) had a nice debut with SU last season as the Springfield College transfer finished eighth on the team in scoring. Krasco, a natural lefty, will be asked to use his imposing frame on the left side of the field on attack. Sophomore Erik Krum (10 goals, two assists) saw time in 15 games as a freshman so expect his field time to increase this season. Freshman Kyle Quist, a lefty, is one of several high school All-Americans entering the SU program along with freshman Matt Pierotti. Sophomores Michael Yetter (three goals) and Logan Keyser, a transfer from Christopher Newport University, along with freshmen Sean Hickey and Matt Cannone add much needed depth to the attack unit.

For three seasons Salisbury fans have been able to witness one of the best midfielders in program history and for the past two seasons the best midfielder in the country in Kylor Berkman. The high expectations remain for the reigning Division III Player of the Year and coaches' son who prepares for his final season in the maroon and gold. The two-time All-American led the team with 49 assists and was fourth with 34 goals. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of last year's national championship game after he scored five goals and added two assists. He enters the season as the preseason favorite to repeat as Player and Midfielder of the Year.

SU midfielder Kylor Berkman at the 2008 national championship game "I think like any great player he has gotten better. He is faster, bigger, stronger and is shooting the ball better," said Kylor's dad Jim Berkman. "Obviously, he wants to win again and lead this team. I see him being able to dominate at times when he wants to. He is such a good feeder. He will put the ball in other teammate's sticks because he will draw additional attention [this season] and dish to the open player."

For the Berkman family this season will be bittersweet as Jim gets the chance to coach his son for one more season.

"It's a special season in that it's the end of a four-year career of a pretty special player who happens to be my son. He has the chance to go out as one of the best to ever play at Salisbury," said Jim Berkman.

Kylor Berkman will be joined on the first midfield line by junior Mike Von Kamecke (32 goals, 21 assists) to form the best one-two punch in the nation. The hard shooting Von Kamecke capped off a great sophomore season in '08 with an All-American honorable mention honor. He enters the season as a preseason All-American third team selection.

"Kylor and VK enter their third season playing together. They have formed a special bond that not too many midfield lines get to do. They know where each other are on the field at all times and throw passes to each other that you don't normally see," said Berkman. "I think Mike is one of the top five midfielders in the country."

Midfielder Patrick Bonanno The third spot on the first midfield line has been a toss-up all preseason. Senior Patrick Bonanno (25 goals, nine assists) led the team with 10 man-up goals last season in his debut for the Gulls. Bonanno, who can finish the ball, may also see time at attack this season. Freshman Sam Bradman is a two-time high school All-American from Canton, N.Y., and is a special talent that is vying for that first-line spot.

The second midfield line will feature Stony Brook transfer Kevin Finn, a junior, from Illinois and sophomore Ryan Curran (five goals, three assists) who has worked hard on his shooting during the fall. Freshman Tim Lum, like Finn, can shoot the ball really well on the run. Sophomore Shawn Zordani (three goals, two assists) is knocking on the door as he has improved a lot from his freshman year. At the third midfield line look for the combination of sophomores Dean Rossi (one goal), Kyle Piper (one goal, three assists) and Albany transfer Perry Craz. Freshmen David BorcikKier BlevinsCraig Burnett,Ryan Clarke and Jeff McGuire will fight for time as the season unfolds.

Junior Ryan Finch (four goals, seven assists) will be Salisbury's main face-off specialist after he won 156-of-230 face-offs (.678 percent) last season. Finch, a transfer from Messiah College, was second on the team with 114 ground balls during his first season with the Gulls. Finch will be spelled by Kylor Berkman and freshman Kyle Gallagher.

Senior Kevin Maynard will anchor the Sea Gull defense as he has emerged into a leadership role. Last season, Maynard started and played in all 22 games and was fourth on the team with 22 caused turnovers and scooped up 31 ground balls. He was an All-CAC second team selection in '08 and was named a preseason All-American honorable mention selection by Face-Off Yearbook. He is also one of the three team captains.  

"Kevin is a good lead by example player. He is one of the strongest kids on our team and one of the fittest kids," said Berkman.

Maynard will be joined at close defense by sophomore Collin Tokosch who saw action in 20 games and caused 15 turnovers and scooped up eight ground balls. Tokosch played a lot last year on the man-down unit and was considered the fourth defensemen for the Gulls.

"Tokosch had a great fall. You could probably consider him our best defender after fall ball," said Berkman.

Junior Jeff Breeding has been waiting in the wings and is ready to step-up in '09 as he is slated for the third defenseman spot for the Sea Gulls. The former high school All-American saw time in 18 games last season, mainly on man-down possessions. One of the first defensemen off the bench this season will be sophomore Tom Cooper, a transfer from Howard Community College where he was a National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) All-American first team selection in '07. Sophomores Jeff Hoffman and Nick Mooney return on defense while fellow sophomore Spencer Smith (six goals) joins the unit after he played midfield last season. New faces to the defense this season include freshmenSam Miller and Bryan Dacey.

The long-stick midfield position will be held down by junior Connor Burgasser who led the team in caused turnovers (50) and was third on the team in ground balls (76) last season. In two seasons, he has played in every game as a Sea Gull and was named to the All-CAC first team in '08. He was named to the Face-Off Yearbook preseason All-American honorable mention list.

"Connor is our No. 1 guy at LSM. He had a great season last year and is better this season after playing a lot over the summer and in some big tournaments," said Berkman. "He is playing with more confidence and is getting stronger as he matures."

Burgasser will be backed by freshman Evan Hockel who could see time on the wing during face-offs. The Archbishop Spalding graduate was also a standout on the football field as a running back. Freshman Nick Schiefer, who hails from Michigan, adds depth to the long-stick midfield position.

The defensive midfielders will be led by junior Will Poletis (six goals, one assists) who played in 21 games and scooped up 21 ground balls and caused seven turnovers.

"Will gives us a lot of speed between the lines and had a couple big goals last year. He gives us a good offensive player at defensive midfield with a lot of speed," said Berkman.

Junior transfer Matthew Cowley will back Poletis after he played two seasons for Nassau Community College. Cowley scored 14 goals and nine assists last season for Nassau, who won the NJCAA national championship last season. He was a two-time NJCAA All-American selection. Senior captain Tim O'Branski brings a lot of experience to the fold as he saw action in 16 games last season.

Sophomore transfer Johnny Rodriguez is the favorite to start in the goal for the Sea Gulls this season but he is being pushed by several other keepers for that spot and playing time. Rodriguez comes to SU from Division II power Limestone College. Last season, the right-handed goalie saw action in a half dozen games for the Saints. The Gambrills, Md., native continues a recent streak in which at least one SU goalie starter each season has hailed from Anne Arundel County in Maryland since 2000.

Sophomore Tim Swinburn returns this season after he sat out last year. The left-handed goalie was a member of SU's '07 national championship team where he made eight game appearances. Senior Mike Petti is back for his third season with the Gulls. He saw time in six games last season and made three saves. Petti is a former NJCAA All-American selection from Howard Community College. Junior Joe Evans, a transfer from Dean College, is the fourth goalie in the mix for the Gulls this season.

"I think everyone is pretty excited about our goalie situation," said Berkman. "Rodriquez is a very good athlete with good size and works hard. Swinburn is a lot better than he was two years ago."

Salisbury will once again play one of the most demanding schedules in the nation this season. The Sea Gulls will square off against five teams that made last year's NCAA Division III tournament field and four teams ranked in the preseason Top 20 polls.

"Once again it looks like we are going to end up playing the best team in every conference in the south," said Berkman of the team schedule. "You can't play a much better schedule than that."

Salisbury will open the season against Scranton University on February 15 at Sea Gull Stadium as the maroon and gold prepare to begin the '09 campaign. SU will look to add on to its 77-game regular season win streak and 74-game home win streak. The Gulls will then travel to No. 10 Lynchburg College the following weekend. The Hornets are the last team to defeat Salisbury in the regular season back on April 10, 2003. Salisbury will begin its Capital Athletic Conference schedule when the Sea Gulls host Rt. 13 rival Wesley College. SU has won every conference game (regular season or postseason) since it joined the CAC in 1995, a streak of 100 consecutive games. The Gulls close out the month of February with a home non-conference game with Widener University (February 28), another NCAA participant from last season.

March begins with a CAC road trip to Frederick, Md., to face Hood College (March 4) before SU returns home for a two-game stand before Spring Break. NCAA tournament participant Ohio Wesleyan University pays another visit to Sea Gull Stadium on March 8 followed by Marymount (Va.) University (March 11) for another CAC game. SU will then venture south to Florida for Spring Break where the Sea Gulls will face Colorado College in a neutral site game on March 17. The Sea Gulls close out the month with four games, three at home. Former SU assistant coach Justin Axel brings his Eastern Connecticut State University team to Salisbury for a game on March 21 under the lights at Sea Gull Stadium. After a road game at York, Pa., against the Spartans the Gulls prepare for another team from Pennsylvania in No. 2 Gettysburg College (March 28). The Gulls swept the Bullets twice last season as SU defeated Gettysburg 11-10 in double-overtime in the national semifinals. SU will play three more conference games before the CAC tournament begins on April 13. The biggest of the three games is April 4 when SU hosts No. 5 Stevenson University under the lights at Sea Gull Stadium. Last season, the Mustangs lost a 13-12 decision to the Gulls before the maroon and gold doubled up Stevenson, 20-10, in the CAC title game. The Salisbury regular-season schedule closes out on the road in Chestertown, Md., on April 25 for another installment of the "War on the Shore" with No. 8 Washington (Md.) College. The NCAA tournament begins on May 6.

This is the third time Salisbury has entered a season as the two-time defending national champions. In the other two attempts the Gulls were able achieve the three-peat once (2005) and fell short in the national semifinals (1996) with one of the best teams in school history. Only time will tell if this year's team can make it three in a row.

"We are excited about this season. We are anxious to see who is going to step up at attack, the third defensive spot and the third guy on the midfield," said Berkman. "I think there is enough talent out there that if those things do happen we can compete with anyone on any given day."

A scenario Salisbury opponents have become all too familiar with over the years.


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