May 27, 2011

Tokosch Key to Salisbury's Tighter Defense

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Salisbury defenseman Collin Tokosch has improved each year and has emerged as the Sea Gulls' top cover guy as a senior.

© Salisbury Athletics

Jimmy Dailey was killing the Sea Gulls.

Stevenson's jitterbug All-American attackman had two goals in the first 13 minutes of the game, helping the Mustangs race out to a 5-0 lead to start their regular season matchup April 16.

Salisbury head coach Jim Berkman had seen enough.

Berkman called a timeout and switched his quiet senior leader, Collin Tokosch, onto Dailey for the remainder of the game.

"From that point on, we kind of kept him in check," Berkman said of Dailey, who managed just one more goal in Stevenson's victory and the Sea Gulls' (20-1) only blemish this spring.

"I worked on my footwork in the offseason, so I was just matching feet with Dailey and trying to play within myself, not try to do anything crazy," Tokosch said. "Not try and take the ball away from him or anything, because that's not really my game. It was more of letting him come to me, keeping my stick down and watching his hips. He's quick east to west, so footwork was definitely a focus."

Tokosch has been on the field for Salisbury since he arrived on the Eastern Shore. He began as an apprentice his freshman year, the fourth pole, and has been in the starting lineup since. Last year he was a second team All-American on a team that made it to the national championship game. He has continued to get better this year, according to Berkman.

"As a junior, he wasn't a guy who could cover Jimmy Dailey, but he was the guy who could cover Jimmy Dailey this year," Berkman said. "He took another big step. He improved his intelligence and footwork and got stronger. He's got a great sense for the game and has been a good leader for us."

Tokosch's leadership style is based almost purely on example. His personality does not permit large outbursts of emotion or much yelling at all, really. For four years Berkman and the coaching staff have tried to get Tokosch to communicate more, and more vociferously, but they've accepted that's just not his style.

"I'm a quiet guy," Tokosch said. "I kind of feel it's a quiet before the storm type of thing. I don't need to be hooting and hollering at everything. But if something needs to be said, I'll say it."

Don't confuse Tokosch's quietness for passivity. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder can bring the heat.

"His mean streak is a little different. It's more subtle," Berkman said. "He's not going to verbalize it or talk trash out there, but if there's a loose ball around you, man, you're going to feel his wrath."

Said Tokosch: "It depends on the time. You've got to know when to hold them and when to throw them. There's a time when you have to be a brawler and stick up for somebody, or lay a check that is going to say something to the guy. Sometimes you've got to be a field general out there and play smart."

It will likely be the latter when Salisbury faces Tufts for the second straight year in the Division III national championship game, which will be webcast by the NCAA at 7 p.m. on Sunday.

Last year, the Sea Gull defense was too reckless at the start of the game against the bloodlessly efficient Jumbos offense. They paid the price. Salisbury trailed 6-1 by the time the first quarter ended and could never recover.

"We just need to play our game, and our game is not necessarily chasing them all over the field," Tokosch said. "We want to pressure them, but we've got to be able to cover the crease. That's the main thing. They got some spot feeds into the crease last year. We know their players, so we'll be able to cover up with each other. We want to play inside-out and limit their transition offense."

Neither Tokosch nor Berkman was about to give away any precise details of the Sea Gulls' defensive approach or whom Tokosch would guard, but it's safe to say that if Salisbury wins its ninth national championship, it will be because of how the backline and its senior leader play.

"I think we're a better defensive team than we were last year," Berkman said. "I think our goals against average indicates that, being second in the country. Playing the top teams in the playoffs so far, we've given up eight, four and seven. I think we're solid at that end of the field, and one of the reasons is Collin is better than he was last year."

Just ask Jimmy Dailey.

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