February 11, 2014

#LMRanks: Dabbs Embraces Salisbury's Work Ethic

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

No. 4 Salisbury University

2013 Record: 17-6

Top Returner: G Alex Taylor (Sr.)
His work in the crease (5.50 GAA, 61.5 sv%) is impressive. But Taylor's efforts outside of it - his 81 ground balls ranked second on the team - set him apart.

X-Factor: A Jesse Rabishaw (Jr.)
If Rabishaw (12G, 8A), an Ontario product, can successfully fill the crease finisher role in Jim Berkman's offense, he'll put up big numbers.

After putting on 20 pounds of muscle and increasing his strength during the summer prior to his freshman year in '13, Preston Dabbs (above) not only saw the field as a rookie for Salisbury, but was tabbed a second team All-American.
© Jamie Wilson

Previous: NCAA Division III Men's Breakdown - Nos. 10-5

It didn't take long for Preston Dabbs to realize the vibe was all wrong.

Visiting the Salisbury lacrosse offices during the spring of his senior year in high school, Dabbs was excited to talk with head coach Jim Berkman about his future with the Sea Gulls. A faceoff specialist out of St. Mary's (Md.) Ryken, Dabbs was mildly optimistic about his collegiate prospects.

That didn't last long.

"When I walked into Coach's office, I could kind of tell that he really wasn't all that interested," Dabbs said.

"He was sitting in my office his senior year and I remember he was about 5-foot-9, 160 pounds," recalled Berkman. "We started talking about commitment, getting stronger, the whole nine yards. And about coming ready to play."

In reality, the potential for playing time was unlikely. With senior Tyler Granelli and junior Chris Biank returning fresh off a national championship the previous spring, there wouldn't be many extra faceoffs for Dabbs to take. Still, Berkman's snub lingered over the summer.

"I just figured that when I got to college it was going to be a whole new game with the speed, strength and size," Dabbs said. "I'm kind of a smaller guy, so I figured if I didn't keep up with the game it was going to pass me. I was working out six or seven days a week without much of a break and a pretty hard lifting schedule."

When Dabbs stepped out on the field in the fall of '12, the head coach had to do a double take.

"I've never seen a kid take it so to heart. He showed up and he was 20 pounds heavier. He was 180 and he had actually gotten faster," Berkman said. "The kid was benching 300 pounds. We thought, 'Holy cow. He's really fast, he is stronger than an ox and he can flat-out defend. We can't waste him just being a faceoff guy.'"

With the graduation of Dean Rossi, the Gulls' top defensive middie, Berkman was searching for someone to fill the shorty role that is so imperative to the team's success.

"It's a critical position," Berkman said. "You might have the best poles in the world, but if your middies can't guard people and you have to slide all the time, you become vulnerable. Preston is such a standout defender, he's almost like having another pole out there."

Dabbs had a lot to learn having never really played the position before. Almost a pure FOGO in high school, he had to get used to the nuances of the game. His athletic ability allowed him to handle all of his one-on-one matchups, but the intricacies of team defense took longer to master. It wasn't until 13th game of the season when Salisbury traveled to Stevenson that Dabbs finally felt comfortable.

"It was a huge game and being under the lights with all the fans," he said. "You had to be going all game. There was no time for breaks. After that game it just all clicked and I had it all together at that point."

Berkman chalks Dabbs rookie success, which culminated with him finishing second on the team in takeaways and USILA All-American second team accolades, to his no-nonsense approach to his goals.

"He's a matter-of-fact kid. This is what I've got to get done today. He knows what he's got to do and those are his priorities. He's not a jokester or a guy who has to be the life of the party; he knows what he has to do, gets it done and then goes about his business. That's what I like about him. He's got a lot of Jim Berkman in him in that regards. He knows we've got to get it done today."

In the wake of last season, the entire Salisbury team will have to get their work done to regain their customary spot on top. For just the second time since 1994, the Gulls are neither the defending national champions nor the defending CAC title bearers. Salisbury will be pushed again by St. Mary's in league play and enter the season looking up at old nemesis Stevenson in the region.

This year's team, however, has far fewer questions than last spring's edition that was trying to find replacements for Sam Bradman and his prolific classmates. Senior goalie Alex Taylor, senior LSM Zeke Smith, Biank and Dabbs could be considered among the best players at their respective positions, and the offense, led by senior Rhett DePol and sophomore Brady Dashiell, is fully battle-tested.

Is there enough to propel Salisbury to its 11th national championship, which would move them to within two of Hobart's all-time mark? It's something that is a motivator for Dabbs.

"Obviously, I haven't been there before and last year everyone else on the team besides the freshman was just coming off a national championship," he said. "Being there in the fall and seeing the ring ceremony, I just said, 'Man, I need one of those.'"

Berkman has seen how Dabbs motivates himself on the field.

"If he's out there and he's guarding a guy, it's a personal vendetta in that one moment in time," Berkman said. "He takes it all personally. A d-middie has to have that kind of personality to be successful."

He's also seen Dabbs take a perceived snub and turn himself into an All-American as a freshman. With that kind of success rate, Dabbs might find that ring sooner rather than later.

Lacrosse Magazine will continue its 2014 college lacrosse preview throughout January and into February, with team-by-team breakdowns of the top teams in NCAA Division I, II and III men's and women's lacrosse. Follow the countdown at LaxMagazine.com/LMRanks and on twitter at #LMRanks.

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