SALISBURY, Md. - The Salisbury University men's lacrosse team enters this season with the expectations to continue the program's recent success of reaching the NCAA Division III tournament semifinal round in each of the past four seasons, with three national championship appearances. The Sea Gulls bring back a host of experience and depth in all positions from last season, including all but one starter from the No. 5-ranked scoring defense and three of the top scorers.
"Coming out of fall ball, I thought offensively, as a whole, we played a lot better together, and we are further ahead than we were at the end of last year … the defense was definitely very strong, and we felt good coming out of the fall," Head Coach Jim Berkman said. "I think that this is a very good team, and I think that as this team evolves it has a chance to do some special things."
The Sea Gulls will return all three starters in the attack position from the end of last season. With the emergence of sophomore Brady Dashiell and junior Jesse Rabishaw, along with senior Rhett DePol, the attack line looks to again be a dangerous force of the team.
DePol (20 goals and 37 assists) and Dashiell (29 goals and eight assists) were the second and third leading scorers for the Gulls with 57 and 37 points, respectively; DePol was a mainstay on attack all of last season, with Dashiell coming on strong in the playoffs of his freshman campaign, scoring 17 goals in the final six games.
Berkman said, "Brady and Rhett have seemed to develop a good one-two combination while learning how to play with each other that brings an intangible to the team that we did not have last year."
Rabishaw also came on strong at the end of 2013, with 15 of his 20 points in the last six games. He finished the year with 12 goals and eight assists and had a break-out performance in the Capital Athletic Conference tournament with a nine-point outing (six goals and three assists).
Senior Luke Phipps will be returning for SU, as well, and the team will be looking for a strong season from him. Last season, he finished with nine goals and two assists, and Coach Berkman feels that he has made significant progress to have a big year.
"Luke's game has taken the the biggest step," Berkman said. "He is playing with a lot more confidence, his stick is a lot more consistent and he is really pressing to be in that starting lineup.
Along with those four, junior Mike Kane also looks to come back this season and make an impact on the attack after scoring ten points on eight goals and two assists last season.
Senior Greg Korvin enters the season for Salisbury as the only returner from the first-line midfield last season, in which he finished sixth on the team with 33 points on 17 goals and 16 assists. Korvin will look to lead the midfield again this season, with an improved shot in the fall, and as a player that knows how to get to the goal.
Donovan Lange, a senior transfer from Jacksonville University, will join Korvin on the front line of the midfield. Lange was one of the midfield leaders at Jacksonville, and SU is looking for big things from him.
"He has good wheels and a good shot, and he is just an all-around outstanding lacrosse player," Berkman said.
Cirillo joined the Gulls last season as a freshman, scoring two goals with two assists. He led the scoring from the midfield in the fall, and will make a big splash for the team during the season.
Fitzgerald returns after sitting last season out, but in the 2012 national championship season, he played in 22 games withs seven goals and three assists.
Both players were much improved during the fall, and Berkman said that "at this time those four players have separated themselves from the rest of the midfielders."
The Sea Gulls have a host of players in the mix that could all make an impact for the team. Four returners included sophomore Adam Stork, who is returning from an injury last season, sophomore Jake Rotman, junior Kyle Goss and senior Brandon Kendrick. All four players saw time on the field last season and will look to make in impact on the first and second midfield lines.
Senior Chris Biank will take over the duties at the face-off "X" after backing up Tyler Granelli for two seasons. Last season, Biank won 77-of-119 chances for a 64.7 face-off percentage, while he picked up 51 ground balls.
"Biank had a great fall. He separated himself from everybody else," Berkman said. "He is a better all-around player at the "X." Hopefully we are going to score a little more this year off the face-off."
The other player that could potentially see time at face-offs is sophomore Preston Dabbs. Dabbs majorly plays in the defensive midfield, but, last season, he won the only face-off opportunity he had and could spell Biank throughout the season.
The Salisbury defense brings back all but one player from its starting lineup from last season, keeping the No. 5-ranked scoring defense (5.96 goals allowed per game) in tact.
2013 All-American Josh Martin returns to lead the close defenders after finishing second on the team with 31 caused turnovers.
"Kemp has a great deal of speed. He played outstanding in the fall and adds the dimension of speed that makes our defense with Josh and Knute exceptionally fast," Berkman said. "It's one of the faster defenses we've had here."
Kraus finished last season with 18 caused turnovers and 40 ground balls, while Kemp caused 13 turnovers and picked up 17 ground balls.
Towson transfer, sophomore Joey Weidner, will look to get into the defensive rotation during the season as the fourth defender.
Senior Zeke Smith, a third-team All-American and the team's leader with 50 caused turnovers, will return to the long-stick midfield. After making the switch to long-stick from close defense, last season, Smith also made an offensive impact with seven goals and one assist, and he picked up 77 ground balls.
Junior Marty Wallace returns to the team as the second long-stick midfielder. In 2013, Wallace picked up 12 ground balls and caused eight turnovers. He will be joined in the rotation by freshman Andrew Ternahan.
"In the defensive midfield, everyone returns," said Berkman. "Everybody is better and that is what is exciting."
Dabbs and Anderson are the top-two players in the position after strong freshman seasons. Dabbs was a second-team All-American, while finishing third on the team with 28 caused turnovers and picking up 33 ground balls, and Anderson picked up 53 ground balls and caused 19 turnovers.
"Davis may be one of the most improved guys out there." Berkman said.
Stone will enter the year as the third defensive midfielder. Last season, Stone caused 15 turnovers, while picking up 31 ground balls.
The Sea Gulls remain strong in the cage, as senior Alex Taylor returns for his third year as the starting goalkeeper. Taylor finished last season ranked second in the nation with a 5.79 goals-against average, and he was named a third-team All-American. He held a .602 save percentage, as well.
Juniors, Dan Feeney and Connor Anderson, both return after being injured last season. Feeney returns as the second goalkeeper behind Taylor; he played in 12 games as a freshman with a 4.57 GAA. Anderson played in four games last season before going down, saving .667 percent of the shots he faced.
Salisbury enters 2014 with a challenging schedule that includes seven opponents that are ranked in the top 20 in the country.
"We are playing 10-12 teams that could be ranked in that top 20," Berkman said. "It is about as competitive a schedule that we can have."
The Sea Gulls begin their season on Feb. 9 on the road against Greensboro College, before opening at Sea Gull Stadium against No. 12 Lynchburg College on Feb. 15.
The first CAC game for the Gulls will be on March 15, as they will host Frostburg State University.
The other ranked opponents include No. 1 Stevenson University, No. 7 Cabrini College, No. 9 Washington College, No. 16 St. Mary's College of Maryland, a CAC-foe, No. 19 Widner University and No. 20 Gettysburg College.
The CAC tournament is set to begin on April 23, with the NCAA tournament set for May 7.