SALISBURY, Md. - The third-ranked Sea Gulls faceoff against fourth-ranked Tufts University in the 2016 Division III national championship game as the Gulls are vying for their 11th title of all time and look to stop the Jumbos as they look to three-peat.
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How we got here
Salisbury made it to the championship game with a convincing 14-6 victory over Gettysburg College at Sea Gull Stadium.
Carson Kalama (five goals, one assist), Nathan Blondino (four goals, one assist), and James Burton (three goals, two assists) all contributed at least five points in the win as the Gulls put up a 14-spot on a defense that was fourth in the nation with a goals-against average below 6.00.
The Gulls outscored the Bullets every quarter of the game and used a 7-1 run that stretched between the second and third quarters to put the game away early.
Freshman faceoff man T.J. Logue allowed the Sea Gulls to play make-it take-it lacrosse as he won 16 of the 17 faceoffs he took.
Salisbury dominated most categories on the stat sheet, winning the groundball battle (46-19) and had more shots (36-24), all while successfully clearing the ball 21 times in 22 attempts and going 5-for-8 on the man up.
How they got here
Tufts hosted St. Lawrence University in its semifinal contest and dismantled the Saints, winning 23-12 to make it to the championship game.
Faceoff standout Conor Helfrich won the opening draw and took it down for the goal as the Jumbos scored at least five goals in the first-three quarters, including an eight-goal third.
Zach Richman and John Uppgren led the offensive charge as Richman pumped in five goals, while Uppgren had a balanced four-goal, three-assist outing for seven points.
In net, Alex Salazar saw 27 shots on goal and stopped 18 of the Saints' attempts to gather a .750 save percentage. The Saints even outshot the Jumbos (47-38), but the efforts of Salazar quieted the St. Lawrence offense.
Helfrich won 22-of-27 draws and led the game with 14 groundballs to help the Jumbos win the groundball battle, 41-31.
Scouting the Jumbos
The Jumbos feature a fast paced brand of lacrosse, averaging over 17 goals per game and allowing over 11 goals per game.
John Uppgren is the Jumbos go-to guy with 126 points on the season coming off 69 goals and 57 assists.
As a part of the high-scoring nature of the Jumbos, they also boast five additional players who are above 55 points on the season in Ben Andreycak (88 points), Jake Gillespie (79 points), Austin Carbone (58 points), Zach Richman (58 points), and Garrett Clarke (57 points). In that top six, all shoot over .333 percent and have taken over 100 shots on the season (except Carbone who has taken 87).
Salazar has started 20 of the Jumbos' 22 games and has a .558 save percentage, while allowing teams to score 11.57 goals against per game.
Helfrich leads the team in groundballs with 214 as no one on the team besides him has more than 65 groundballs. On the year, his faceoff percentage is .630, coming from 367 faceoff wins.
As both the Gulls and Jumbos have a pedigree of success, yet are in separate regions, the teams have played just three times, with all three coming in the national title game.
The last time the teams squared off was during the 2014 season when the Jumbos defeated the Gulls, 12-9 for the national championship. Tied 5-5 at halftime, Tufts outscored Salisbury, 6-1 in the third quarter. Salisbury ended the game with three goals in the fourth but the late comeback fell short.
Prior to 2014, the teams met in the 2011 championship game in Baltimore and Salisbury won 19-7. Current assistant coaches for Salisbury, Sam Bradman and Tyler Granelli controlled the game for Salisbury as Bradman went off for seven goals and one assist, while Granelli went 15-for-27 on faceoffs and had a game-high five groundballs.
The 2011 matchup was a rematch from the 2010 national championship game where the Jumbos used a six-goal first quarter to jump out to a big lead and eventually outlasted the Gulls, 9-6.
Shooting for 11
Salisbury comes into the championship game with 10 national titles, all coming with Head Coach Jim Berkman at the helm. Berkman's first title came during the 1994 season and since then, he has not gone longer than four seasons without a championship.
Three years removed from its last title in 2012, the team has just one national champion, not including the coaching staff, as James Burton was on the 2012 team and is a fifth-year senior for the Gulls.
Can they dish it? Yes, they can
The Sea Gulls have a propensity for finding the open man and are among the nation's best at getting assisted goals.
Salisbury comes in with the most assists in the nation (239), and the second most assists per game (10.39).
With 239 assists on the season, the Gulls have seven players with over 10 assists, led by James Burton's 49 and Nathan Blondino's 45.
On only two occasions this season, the Gulls were held under five assists, and 12 times have had double-digit assists. Against Southern Virginia University, Salisbury had a season-high 21 assists, tied for the fourth-highest total in a single game in division III all season.
With Burton and Blondino both having over 40 assists, it is the first time since the 1995 season where Salisbury has had multiple players crack the 40-assist mark.
Berkman's sharp shooters
With a high-assist total comes open shots that the Salisbury offensive players have been finishing at a high rate. The teams' .372 shooting percentage is the third-highest mark in the nation and every player with 25 or more goals on the roster (seven players) has at least a .300 shooting percentage.
Over the last 10 games, the only times Salisbury has shot below .300 percent as a team were the two games this season that the team had less than five assists.
Individually, Kalama leads the nation in shooting percentage at .585 percent as he has scored his 62 goals on 106 shots.