Season Preview: Sea Gulls enter 2015 with sights set on national championship return

Season Preview: Sea Gulls enter 2015 with sights set on national championship return

SALISBURY, Md. – As the 2015 spring season nears, the Salisbury University men's lacrosse program is gearing up for its 41st season of play, and 27th season under Head Coach Jim Berkman. With Berkman at the helm, the Sea Gulls have become a model of consistency in the collegiate lacrosse ranks, and they enter the upcoming season with a goal that remains just as steady: return to the NCAA Division III national championship game.

Salisbury advanced to the national championship game last season, marking the 11th time in 13 seasons, and returns with those same high expectations this season, hoping to bring SU the program's 11th national championship.

"The objective here is to compete for a national championship," Berkman said. "I think our team is in that position once again; we've got enough talent that we like our chances down the road."

With a solid core of returning players, along with some up-and-coming talent, SU looks to continue the success that has brought the program nothing but winning seasons since 1980, including every season under Berkman, and 26-straight NCAA tournament berths.

ATTACK

Senior Mike Kane returns to the crease, after leading Salisbury with 48 goals and finishing third with 54 points last season. Kane is the only returning starter on the first attack line and will be an even bigger asset for the team around the cage in 2015.

"Mike is a lot better this year than he was even last year, already," Berkman said. "He is a little bit bigger, his hands have gotten better, and we are excited to have his leadership and experience on the crease."

Kane will be joined on the first line by Nathan Blondino, who is entering his second season with Salisbury and is primed for a break-out year in the right-attack spot. The Leonardtown, Maryland native played in 19 games and scored 10 points on three goals and seven assists, as he consistently saw action on the second attack line.

"Nate improved a lot from last year," Berkman said. "We feel we are every bit as good in that spot as we were last year with an All-American there."

There is a battle for the third starting spot on the attack, as junior Chris Joyce and sophomore Carson Kalama are both vying for time on the field.

Joyce and Kalama both played in their first season for Salisbury, last season, playing in four and 10 games, respectively. Kalama scored 11 goals with four assists on the year, including a breakout eight-point effort against Southern Virginia University, while Joyce found the cage three times with two assists.

MIDFIELD

Senior Sean Fitzgerald and junior Thomas Cirillo both return to the Salisbury midfield after breakout 2014 seasons.

Fitzgerald spent last year on the first-line midfield for the Gulls and is the only returning starter from the unit coming back this season. His 44 points, 28 goals, and 16 assists all ranked fifth on the team; he came on strong during the team's CAC championship performance and NCAA tournament run with 14 points in the Sea Gulls' final five games of the season.

Cirillo will move onto the first-line midfield in 2015, after finishing sixth on the team with 38 points, 27 goals, and 11 assists, last season. He was awarded for his effort by being named a United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association Division III All-American honorable mention and an All-CAC second-team member.

"Cirillo is a little bit better this year. His shooting is better, and he's gotten a few more moves; we are excited to return a quality player like him," Berkman said. "Fitzgerald just seemed to get better and better every game; his shot is much improved from last year, and I am expecting a really break-out All-American season from him."

Junior James Burton returns to Salisbury, after sitting out last season, and will hold the third spot on the first midfield line. Burton played in 19 games during the 2013 season, his second with the program, while scoring nine goals. He spent some of that season on the first line and will bring that experience to the squad in 2015.

Junior Adam Stork and sophomore Brendan Bromwell are two of SU's more versatile players, having experience in both the offensive and defensive midfields, and will see time on the second-line midfield in the upcoming season.

Stork saw time in 20 games in 2014, netting eight points and causing two turnovers. He scored two goals and dished out four assists during the CAC and NCAA tournaments, as he played on the second midfield line in each of those games.

Bromwell played in 12 games last season, but came on at the end of the year to play in each of the Gulls' final six games. On the year, he found the back of the net once with an assist for two points. He also picked up six ground balls.

Along with Stork and Bromwell, senior Kyle Goss, juniors Jake Rotman and Christian Ottenritter, sophomore Griffin Melzer, and freshman Garrett Reynolds are all pushing for spots on the second midfield line this year.  Each of them played well coming out of the fall, giving the team plenty of strong options for the final spots in the midfield.

The defensive midfield will bring back two familiar faces in juniors Preston Dabbs and Davis Anderson, both of whom have played as the two top defensive midfielders on the team since their freshman seasons; the duo tied for fifth on the team with 19 caused turnovers, each, last season.

Dabbs, a two-time USILA All-American, including a first-team selection in 2014, and a two-time All-CAC first-team member, played in all 23 games while making seven starts; he added 16 ground ball pickups and one goal on the year, as well.

"Preston had a great fall, is stronger than ever, and is playing great defense," Berkman said. "His one-on-one defense is bar none. I don't know if there is a better kid in the country with a short stick."

Anderson also appeared in all 23 games with 18 starts; he played a major role on the wing for faceoffs, finishing sixth on the team with 43 ground balls. The Winter Park, Florida native was valuable in the transition game, as well, totaling six points with five goals and one assist.

"Davis Anderson might be the most improved kid on the team; he might be the best all-around midfielder on our team right now," Berkman added. "He has worked really, really hard and is right up there in the top-five players on this team. Having those two back really solidifies the defense."

Senior Patrick Cleary will also see time in the defensive midfield, providing depth to the position for the Gulls. Cleary saw time in seven games last season, picking up seven ground balls and causing one turnover. He also tallied two points on a goal and an assist.

Salisbury will have depth in the long-stick midfield as well, with the return of senior Marty Wallace and sophomore Andrew Ternahan, along with the addition of freshman Will Nowesnick.

Wallace offers veteran experience in his fourth season with the program; he played in 22 games last season with two starts. He finished second on the team with 24 caused turnovers, while picking up 42 ground balls. Wallace also added two assists on the year.

Nowesnick joins the team this season and is poised to make an immediate impact for Salisbury as the second long-stick midfielder to split time with Wallace. Berkman describes the freshman as rangy and a good athlete with good speed. He will also play on the wing for faceoffs, as his skill of getting the ball off the ground brings good value at that position.

Ternahan played in his first season as a Sea Gull in 2014, appearing in 10 games and causing three turnovers with eight ground ball pickups. He added a goal in the Gulls' victory over Southern Virginia, as well. He will also see time on the wing during faceoffs and provide good depth to the long-stick midfield.

FACEOFFS

The responsibilities at the "X" will fall to Dabbs and sophomore Cameron Maples heading into the 2015 season. Both players saw time taking faceoffs, last season.

Maples went 35-for-65 (53.8 percent) on faceoffs in 2014 and is looking to take of the top spot at the "X" this season.

"Cam is much improved this year," Berkman said. "He was the third guy last year but is improved and hopefully is ready to seize the moment and take over the number one spot this year."

Dabbs poses a dual threat for the Gulls, as he will also see time at the faceoff "X," after taking 94 attempts last season. He won 50 faceoffs in 2014 for a 53.2 winning percentage.

DEFENSE

The Sea Gull defense will continue to be a strength for the program, as the unit, which ranked 14th in the nation with a goals-allowed average of 6.57 goals per game last year, brings back three proven defenders in 2015 in seniors Austin Kemp and Knute Kraus and junior Danny Sherr.

Kraus, a returning team captain, was named a USILA second-team All-American after last season and will lead the defense again this season. Last season, he finished fourth on the team with 21 caused turnovers and fifth with 46 ground balls. He also added a goal on the season, as well.

"Knute is stronger and faster than he was. He has worked really hard, and with the experience he brings to the table, he is a great guy to have back," Berkman said. "He is a first-team All-American defender."

Kemp returns after a breakout junior year, in which he played in and started all 23 games for the Gulls. He finished the season with 16 caused turnovers and 39 ground balls. This season, Berkman sees Kemp as another potential All-American on the defensive end.

After sitting out the last two seasons due to injury, Sherr comes back to the front line of the Salisbury defense. He last played for the 2012 national championship team, during which he played in 23 games with 11 caused turnovers and 20 ground balls.

"Danny Sherr is faster and quicker than he has ever been." Berkman said. "We feel really good about those three guys; I think we have three All-American defenders."

Sophomores Aaron Leeds and Cash Carlson both look to provide depth to the close defense, as well, as both players have good experience from previous years with the Gulls.

Leeds saw more time last year, playing in nine games, including in three NCAA tournament games. He picked up three ground balls and caused two turnovers, while also adding an assist.

Carlson played in five games, causing one turnover with two ground ball pick ups.

GOALKEEPER

Senior Dan Feeney returns for the Sea Gulls and will take over the duties in the cage for the 2015 season. Feeney is one-of-two senior goalkeepers returning for Salisbury, but will get the starting nod after ending fall ball strongly. Last season, he appeared in four games with over 33 minutes in the goal, while making 17 saves.

"Dan has paid his dues. He is a hard worker and has been a good program guy," Berkman said. "He has done everything asked of him and really understands what we need from him; in the last three weeks of fall ball he was outstanding in the cage."

Freshman Anthony Stavakis will play his first season with Salisbury this year, and has already emerged on the team, serving as the No. 2 goalkeeper behind Feeney. Stavakis showed strong play coming out of fall ball and looks to carry that into the season.

Senior Connor Anderson also returns for the Sea Gulls, after playing in 10 games in 2014

SCHEDULE

Salisbury begins it season on Saturday, February 7 at Sea Gull Stadium against Greensboro College, as the Gulls have a competitive schedule set for the 2015 season.

"We are playing all of the top teams in the south, every team that was in the top eight," Berkman said. "It is extremely competitive, and we are stretching ourselves with the number of games we're playing, also."

The Sea Gulls begin their conference schedule with a matchup with St. Mary's College of Maryland on the road on Saturday, March 14, before returning home for their first CAC home game, hosting University of Mary Washington on Saturday, March 21.

"Our conference continues to improve," Berkman added. "With three teams in the national tournament last year and several teams with strong returning casts, the conference will again be extremely competitive.

View: Mobile | Desktop