May 19, 2014

MD3 Notebook: No Smiles for Tufts Yet

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Cole Bailey (above) had five goals and an assist in the Jumbos 21-11 thrashing of formerly unbeaten RIT. Now Tufts must return to business mode as Salisbury looms next week with a national title on the line. (Tufts Athletics)

After vanquishing RIT with extreme prejudice in the North region finals on Sunday, one would think the good times would be rolling on the Tufts' bus ride back to Medford. Unless Jumbos head coach Mike Daly was taking the call from the bathroom, there wasn't much jubilation to be heard.

And Daly certainly was more dour than would be normally expected.

"I haven't really smiled too much since the game ended," he said.

Tufts just rolled the only undefeated team left in the country – a team that has been No. 1 in Division III pretty much from wire-to-wire – by 10 goals, and the coach is acting like I just kicked his dog.

What gives?

"Unfortunately, I remember the losing side of things more than I ever enjoyed the winning side of things," Daly added. "I have those pictures in my head right now about what it's like to be on the bad side of things."

It has been three years since Tufts made its back-to-back apperances on Memorial Day weekend. The first trip in 2010 resulted in an improbable national championship after the Jumbos stunned Salisbury, 9-6. The visit in '11 didn't go quite as well. Tufts met Salisbury again, and the Sea Gulls used seven goals from Sam Bradman to torch the Jumbos, 19-7, for the most lopsided game in Division III finals history.

It is that game that is determining how the Tufts players and staff will approach this week.

"We've been on both sides of it and it's not a very enjoyable experience when you lose it," Daly said. "We'll keep them focused and make sure they are ready to go on Sunday."

Using history as a guide can be both a blessing and a curse, but it was certainly the former as the Jumbos took the field against RIT. Having played RIT in the tourney for four successive yeras took away any of the mystique surrounding the Tigers. They weren't some kind invincible band of superheroes; they were just a similar group to the ones the Jumbos have played in the past and had some decent success against.

"Our guys are comfortable with them," Daly said of RIT. "They were undefeated in one of those years we beat them, too. It was familiar. It was familiar coming to Rochester, it was familiar playing at RIT. We're certainly happy to be on the good side of it, but we've done this three out of the four times. This trip has become familiar and it's not something where our guys don't know what to expect."

During this edition of the burgeoning rivalry, it seemed like RIT didn't know what to expect. Although the Tigers initially took control of the game, forcing Tufts to labor just to tie the game at four after 15 minutes, the Jumbos completely baffled the home team over the next 45 minutes, coasting to a stunning, 21-11 victory.

There was no passing wizardry or magical game-planning that Tufts invoked. The Jumbos were just winning all of the one-on-one match-ups, to the point where a team that statistically had an assist on over 60 percent of its goals coming into the game only had eight helpers on 21 goals against RIT.

"It was just the way it worked out," Daly said. "We were aware of what your eyes saw, too, and they were pretty slow to slide and they weren't sliding to Cole Bailey a lot. So that's how that happened more so than anything we were doing."

Because Sunday's game against RIT fell on the same date as the commencement ceremony at Tufts, the Jumbos' seniors had their own ceremony on Friday, including the presence of the president and the trustees of the university to confer diplomas. As such, it wasn't surprising who Daly lauded after the game.

"Our seniors got the game ball and Beau Wood got to hold it for them," Daly said, after Wood scored seven goals and dished out one assist. "It was pretty fitting for our seniors and for Beau Wood, especially."

But that was last smile that was spotted anywhere near a Tufts player or coach. It's all business now because these memories, whether good or bad, last forever.

Salisbury Shrugs Off Early Surprise

It's not often that Jim Berkman gets caught by surprise, and it's even more infrequent when he admits to the fact. But that's what Washington College was able to do the Sea Gulls coach at the onset of Sunday night's national semifinal when the Shoremen raced out to a 3-0 bulge in the first eight minutes.

"We're not a big sliding team, and they had three kids put their head down and just go to the goal and we were a little late," Berkman said. "It caught us by surprise, kids going that hard to the goal like they were on a suicide mission. [Hunter] Nowicki made a nice shot on the first one righthanded, which is unusual for him. The second one, [Sid] Looney dove in between two defenders and I actually don't think he shot the ball because he got crushed, and his momentum threw the ball into the ground and it popped back up in the corner. They just put their head down and weren't even thinking about passing the ball. We started sliding at about 10 yards and we were able to slow them down a little bit."

More than a little bit.

After rallying to take a 6-5 lead at halftime, Salisbury blanked Washington College for the first 20 minutes of the second half while building an 11-5 lead that would not be threatened. The Shoremen scored two goals in the final four minutes to make the final score 13-8 – the same five-goal margin as the regular season meeting – but this one was in the bag far earlier.

The pendulum swung when Salisbury decided to slide to WAC's kamikaze dodgers and deliver punishing blows before they could get near the cage.

"They couldn't just go with their heads down because a couple of their guys got hit pretty hard over the course of the next 15 minutes," Berkman said. "They would roll back to the middle, and all of a sudden a guy was draped over them and it was a turnover going the other way. They weren't expecting us to do that. We just made some adjustments and slide a little bit earlier than usual."

The final four minutes were all Salisbury. Even Adam Stork, who entered the game with one goal all season, potted a pair – including the marker that gave the Gulls their first and final lead.

Now the sights turn to Baltimore and a treble with Tufts. This will be the rubber-match between the two schools after splitting titles in 2010 and 2011. What is Berkman's quick scout on the Jumbos?

"They've got a couple of kids who can score," Berkman deadpanned.

"They've got a system and they believe in what they do," he continued. "From what I've seen, it's not a whole lot different than when we played them in 2010 and '11. They are in attack mode and they are not afraid to shoot and they have the green light. Every shot is a good shot. They slide early on defense."

Regardless of who wins the game, it's a good bet that Berkman won't get fooled again.

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