Salisbury back where it belongs
Salisbury has returned to familiarity.
The South region’s top-seeded Sea Gulls’ 14-13 victory over No. 2 seed Stevenson in a NCAA Tournament semifinal on Sunday marked the 10th time in 12 years that the team has earned a spot in the national championship game.
Cementing a spot in the tournament final against Tufts on Sunday at 12 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium has required a long journey after Salisbury fell to Stevenson in the quarterfinals last May.
"It’s always a goal at Salisbury," coach Jim Berkman said of returning to the championship game for a program that has captured eight NCAA titles. "There’s such a tradition here. This is the 12th time in 22 years that we’ve been there, and to most kids here, the bar has been set by the alumni. If you don’t get there, it’s not a good season. So obviously, that motivated our guys, especially our eight seniors. They kind of used that as fuel to pump them up and do all the right things through the course of the year to hopefully prepare themselves for the opportunity that’s now presented itself."
The path to this stage of the season has been arduous. The Sea Gulls have beaten six opponents ranked in the top 20 of the most recent United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association, including No. 1 Stevenson twice, No. 3 Cortland, No. 4 Gettysburg, No. 9 Lynchburg, No. 11 Haverford and No. 20 Ohio Wesleyan.
Salisbury has been extended to overtime three times and won those contests against Gettysburg (11-10), Haverford (12-11) and Stevenson (14-13). The team has won four consecutive games in overtime and six of its last seven contests involving extra time.
Berkman said he can appreciate the tough schedule and close calls.
"I really believe that Tufts is a great team, but I’ve got to believe that they’re going to be as good as four or five other teams that we’ve already played," he said. "Obviously, with a one-goal game against Cortland, they’re at Cortland’s level, but with Gettysburg and Stevenson three times, we’ve played six or seven games against the top four teams in the country. So it’s not like we’re going to go out there and cover Shamel Bratton of Virginia for the first time and not be used to his speed. We’ve seen good players, we’ve seen good teams with good depth, we’ve seen good goalies. So we’ve got to do what we do on Sunday."
The eight seniors who populate the Sea Gulls roster have tasted championship weekend before, winning crowns in 2007 and 2008. That experience is invaluable, according to Berkman.
"That’s good for them to have that experience," he said. "I think the biggest advantage we might have is not with the kids, but as a coaching staff, we know the routine. And it’s a different routine. You’ve got a lot of things to go to, and there are certain things that you want to do and certain things you don’t want to do. You’ve got to make sure you’re in the right places. There are a lot of little nuances that hopefully helps you prepare your team to the best of their ability, and we’ve kind of been through that a couple times. Where to go, what to do, when to do it, those type of things that maybe make it a little bit less of a mental strain for the players so that they can rest appropriately and focus on the game."