SALISBURY, Md. - With the 2016 season just around the corner, Head Coach Jim Berkman and the Salisbury University men's lacrosse team are preparing for the season ahead with one definite goal set, an 11th national championship.
The Gulls have been the paradigm of success in Division III lacrosse under Berkman, reaching the NCAA tournament all 27 seasons he has been at the helm. Berkman expects to continue their success in the Capital Athletic Conference, which he notes has vastly improved over the last several years, and looks to make a name on the national level for a squad already ranked in the preseason top five.
"We really like this group and they have been working hard all off-season gearing up for the season," Berkman said, "I am very excited about our leadership and they have done a great job of leading the team in the offseason workouts to be as fit as we possibly could be as we start practicing"
The 2015 season ended in the NCAA quarterfinals, but a solid group of returners on the offense and a group of newcomers on the defensive side of the ball being pushed by a strong leadership core looks to propel Salisbury to Memorial Day weekend in Philadelphia.
Leading the attack will be junior Carson Kalama, who is coming off a sophomore All-American season where he led the team in scoring with 56 goals and 13 assists for 69 points. The most impressive stat however is that he scored his 56 goals on just 113 shots, for a 49.6 shooting percentage.
"Carson had a great sophomore season where he was able to put in over 50 goals," Berkman said, "he's a great crease guy who just knows how to put the ball in the back of the net."
Alongside Kalama will be newly-minted junior captain Nathan Blondino who played in the last 14 games a season ago and despite missing time ended up with 39 points off 23 goals and 16 assists. Berkman noted that Blondino's ceiling is sky high this season as a strong ending to last season propelled him to an equally strong fall ball.
"He had six goals in the CAC semifinal game then a four-goal game against Stevenson in the tournament and I think he's going to add onto that," Berkman said, "he could be that type of player day in and day out and be one of the elite attackmen in the country."
Berquist played in 11 of the first 14 games as a freshmen a season ago before injury sidelined the Arnold, Md., native for the remainder of the season. Prior to the injury, Berquist was scoring at over a point-per-contest clip with 11 goals and four assists for 15 points.
Garbarino comes to Salisbury via Onondaga Community College where he won two NJCAA national championships for the Lazers and tallied 34 goals on just 50 shots (68.0 shooting percentage), while adding 16 assists for 50 points.
"Chase seems to be the early candidate to fill the spot heading into the spring season," Berkman said, "but Nick is a player where we don't miss a beat when he is in there and is a similar player to Carson and at times could even play with Carson because he just knows how to beat the keeper."
Also bolstering the attack will be junior Brady Dashiell who returns to the attack after taking a season off. During his freshman campaign in 2013, the Salisbury, Md., native scored 29 goals and added eight assists.
Much like the attack, the offensive midfield returns an All-American and an additional established presence to its starting line. Eastchester, N.Y., native Thomas Cirillo was a first-team United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association All-American following a season that saw him put up 42 goals and dish out 20 helpers for 62 points. Cirillo will also serve as a team captain for the 2016 season.
Joining Cirillo on the first line will be senior James Burton who was named second team All-CAC a season ago after putting home 29 goals and adding 19 assists for 48 points.
"Both of those guys are two really outstanding All-American-type midfielders" Berkman said, "but who's going to run with them? That's not clear yet but there seems to be three guys knocking on the door for that spot."
Those three looking to become part of that first-midfield line are a trio of upperclassmen that made up the second line a year ago in seniors Christian Ottenritter and Jake Rotman, and junior Brendan Bromwell.
Ottenritter comes in as a bruiser at 6-foot-5 and had 15 points last season (12 goals and three assists). Rotman played in 21 games during the 2015 campaign and posted nine goals and three assists, including two goals down the stretch in the NCAA tournament. Bromwell has a propensity to be a distributor out of the midfield as he had eight goals and 11 assists last season.
Rounding out the top-six offensive midfielders is sophomore Garrett Reynolds who brings a powerful shot from up top and looks to add onto a freshman season where he tallied eight points.
For the short-stick defensive midfielders, the Gulls have an embarrassment of riches as they return two four-year starters at the position, who are also both captains.
Preston Dabbs is the reigning Short-Stick Specialty Player of the Year award winner, as the nation's top defensive midfielder. In addition to being named the best at his position, Dabbs got his third USILA All-American nod, as he was named to the first team for the second year in a row.
In 2015 Dabbs caused 25 turnovers and scooped up 20 groundballs to go along with one goal and six assists on the offensive end of the field.
Alongside Dabbs up top will be Winter Park, Fla., native Davis Anderson. Anderson grabbed 66 groundballs (many coming as a wingman on the faceoffs) and caused 21 turnovers a season ago. Anderson also showed some offensive prowess as he scored twice and added five assists.
"Returning a first-team All-American and a four-year starter is huge at defensive midfield," Berkman said, "these guys are the heart and soul of our team and two big leaders, and I am very excited to head into the season with that kind of experience at the position."
Adding depth in the defensive midfield will be sophomore Dash Ferguson who brings a combination of speed, athleticism, and stick work that is not commonly found at the defensive midfield position.
At the long-stick midfield position, the Gulls return groundball machine junior Andrew Ternahan who played on the opposite wing from Anderson on faceoffs and was second on the team with 80 groundballs and caused 17 turnovers. Not just a defensive minded pole, Ternahan pushed transition for the Gulls and came away with five goals and four assists in 2015.
"He's one of the best in the country at groundballs and gives us great offense out of that long-stick position," Berkman said, "but this year he's become a much better defender in the six-on-six game and causes havoc all over the field."
The second long stick at this point is sophomore Kyle Tucker, who will also see some time down low as a close defender. As a freshmen last season, Tucker played in all 22 games and grabbed 18 groundballs and caused 12 turnovers.
The Gulls have three players at the faceoff X who look to get time and the early front runner is transfer Duncan Campbell who spent his last two seasons at Division I Monmouth University and collected eight groundballs for the Hawks in 2015.
"Last season our faceoff unit was a three-headed monster with Anderson and Ternahan on the wings so I don't really see any drop off with those guys returning," Berkman said. "We feel excited about those wing guys coming back but we have three guys facing off who we are also excited about."
Salisbury returns just one starter at close defense but has players who have been waiting their time who will get their fair chance to crack the starting lineup.
The lone returner is sophomore Will Nowesnick, who comes in at 6-foot-5 and added 15 pounds, up to 215 after an off season where he brought his training to another level. Last season Nowesnick grabbed 21 groundballs and caused 13 turnovers.
"Will is on a mission and really wants to be an All-American and lead the defense," Berkman said. "Will has a great stick and great footwork and performed well in fall ball."
The two who look to join Nowesnick early on are Tucker and junior Aaron Leeds, who both have made marked improvements as athletes in addition to the lacrosse skills both already possessed. Berkman noted Tucker left school at the end of last season at 170 pounds, and has come in at 190 pounds, while Leeds is now in the best shape of his life. Leeds appeared in 16 games in 2015 and is primed to fill a starting role with ease.
"Despite what we lost on defense, all of the guys who will fill in have great footwork and stick skills," Berkman said. "We will not see any drop off there."
"Coming out of fall ball Reymann is the guy," Berkman said, "either way both of those guys gained the trust of the team and the team has confidence in both of them."
Reymann saw action in 11 contests a season ago and stopped 10 shots in 78:11 minutes of play. Berkman sees Reymann as a quick keeper who has a great stick and has an opportunity to be a successful starting keeper.
Stavrakis played 49:48 minutes over eight games last year and stopped 10 of the shots fired his way.
Salisbury's 2016 schedule is amongst the toughest in the nation, playing eight of the preseason top-25 teams in the regular season, but Berkman embraces the challenge ahead.
"We always want to play the best teams out there, we never duck away from anybody and that's always been the mindset," Berkman said, "our guys use the tough games, especially the ones early in the season as motivation to train harder over the winter and get ready for the season ahead."
The Sea Gulls open up the 2016 season on February 6 when they travel to the St. Christopher's School in Richmond, Va., to take on Hampden-Sydney College.
From there, Salisbury opens up a stretch of five games in a row against preseason top-25 squads, starting with its home opener on Saturday, February 13 against Lynchburg College, which ended the Sea Gulls season in the tournament last year.
Salisbury then opens up CAC play at home on Saturday, March 12 when they host St. Mary's College of Maryland.