May 20, 2014

Salisbury's Taylor Ready for Last Competition

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

"He's an athlete who wants to win, and he wants to win at everything," said Salisbury head coach Jim Berkman of Alex Taylor (above). "He loves playing in the intramural championships in racquetball. He won his club championship in golf. He comes to compete each and every day." (Kevin P. Tucker)

When he was a child, Alex Taylor would frequently head to the golf course with his father, Gary. His old man is an avid linksman, and Alex quickly grew a fondness for the game.

He also got his first taste of what it was like to be competitive.

Regardless of his age, Alex didn't get any discounts from his dad. There were no freebies on the putting surface and Gary wasn't going to roll over and give the youngster an easy win on any hole.

"He used to always whoop up on me and he would love every minute of it," Alex said of the golf matches with his father.

The competition with his dad became the cornerstone of someone who has been the most ruthless antagonist on the Salisbury men's lacrosse team.

"He's an athlete who wants to win, and he wants to win at everything," said Sea Gull head coach Jim Berkman. "He loves playing in the intramural championships in racquetball. He won his club championship in golf. He comes to compete each and every day."

During his sophomore year at Salisbury when he assumed the starting goaltender position, he struck up a competition with midfielder Sam Bradman, the top player in Division III at the time. With plenty of trash-talking to go along with it, the two players would keep score on how many saves or goals the other had.

"It was every day in practice," Berkman said. "Who won the battle? Did Sammy score more goals or did Alex have more saves on Sammy? It was good competition because it kept both of them more focused and they played at a higher level."

"Bradman was the best, and in order to be the best you have to beat the best, so Bradman and I kept a running tally during his senior year," Taylor said. "As much as I hate to say it, he had 17 more goals than I had saves over the course of that year. That was a good battle."

It ended up paying off in a national championship that spring, but last year the Sea Gulls fell short of the title game. It is something that has been on the minds of the Salisbury players, Taylor in particular, for nearly a year.

"I always tell my teammates, and they get a laugh out of it, that I hate losing more than I like winning," Taylor said. "Losing kind of just gives me a sick feeling in my stomach, and it has what has led me here."

'Here' is Sunday's national championship game against Tufts, where Taylor will be given perhaps the best competition of his life. The Jumbos are bringing a high-powered offense featuring three players with over 100 points, and have made a habit of sending even the best goalies to the sidelines well before the end of the game.

Taylor certainly has the numbers to blunt Tufts offense, having posted a 6.48 goals against average and 58.5 save percentage versus solid competition. And Taylor poses a special kind of challenge for the Jumbos.

Anyone who has watched Taylor play over the past three years knows about his forays outside of the cage. With startling speed, he'll dart out of the crease for a ground ball and quickly spark transition opportunities that are so crucial, especially in the postseason. And he does it with a poise rarely seen from other netminders who no longer have crease privileges to protect them.

"Against Washington College, he made three or four plays out of the cage on ground balls that you just don't see from a goalie," Berkman said. "He went between two guys one time, beat them both to the ball, scooped it up and somehow rolled underneath both of them, then a third guy came and he made a pass. He can do some stuff that a traditional goalie can't do because he's so athletic."

Perhaps more impressive is his ability to avoid getting blown up by attackman more than eager to lay the lumber against a goalie who only stands 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds.

"The attack that's going against us, they see the goalie out of the cage and their eyes light up and they are trying to go for the big hit," Taylor said. "That plays to my advantage. I like to pick and choose my chances when we can do it. I try to pick right, and so far it has gone pretty well."

That's not to say that every time Taylor sprints out of the goal mouth is necessarily what the game plan called for.

"There have definitely been a couple of decisions that I haven't been real excited about," Berkman said. "But you know what, of all the times he's come out, there is only one time that we've ever gotten burned."

That happened this year at Stevenson, when Taylor grabbed a ground ball and weaved his way through the Mustangs ride to the midfield line. Because the Sea Gulls were down three men at the time, the second Taylor stepped over the center stripe, the whistle blew and Salisbury was tagged for offsides. Seconds later, the ball was in the back an empty net.

Said Berkman, in defense of Taylor: "But how many times do you practice three men down?"

That game is in the past. All of them are in the past for Taylor, and there is just one more to go. He grew up 20 minutes from M&T Bank Stadium so, unlike his first national championship game in 2012, he's going to savor this one.

"My sophomore year it felt like when the game started and I blinked my eyes, the game was over," he said. "This time, I'm really going to soak it in and really enjoy it. This doesn't happen very often and it'll be the last game I get to play. Nothing is going to be the same atmosphere of playing championship weekend in Baltimore, one of the greatest lacrosse towns, and right in front of my family."

When his lacrosse days are over, Taylor will return to the golf course to get his competitive fix. As a senior at Glenelg High School, he qualified for both the Maryland Amateur and the Maryland Open, and has a 1-handicap on the links.

He'll even hit the course a couple of times with his father.

"He used to never let me win, so I beat him every chance I get," Taylor said, laughing. "He keeps asking for more and more strokes. I'm having a tough time giving them to him."

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