When Salisbury opened the 2013 season in defense of the national championship it had captured last May, the team limped to a 1-2 start and the thought of advancing to the NCAA tournament semifinals appeared to be remote. At least that was the way coach Jim Berkman saw it.
“It was definitely a distant possibility at that time,” he said Thursday after recalling a 13-12 setback to Lynchburg on Feb. 16 and a 7-6 double-overtime decision to Washington and Lee four days later. “But by the same token, they were both one-goal losses and in both games, we had a one-on-one to win the game. … So we knew we weren’t that far off. But by the same token, we knew there were – as we saw throughout the year – some inconsistencies on offense.”
And yet the No. 12 Sea Gulls (17-5) are poised to make their 10th appearance in a national title game in the last 11 years if they can get past No. 4 Stevenson (20-2) this Sunday at Mustang Stadium in Owings Mills.
Getting to this stage of the NCAA tournament has been anything but easy. The team lost a pair of starters in senior midfielder Ryan Clarke (ruptured spleen) and junior defenseman Danny Sherr (foot) and a second-line midfielder in sophomore Adam Stork (broken leg) and then removed sophomore attackman Wade Korvin and a few more players for disciplinary reasons.
Opponents are averaging just 5.7 goals against Salisbury’s defense, but the offense has scored just 12.6 goals per game, which is currently the lowest average in program history in at least the last 11 seasons.
The offense has been playing better as freshman Brady Dashiell and sophomore Jesse Rabishaw have cemented their status as starting attackmen, and the defense has been fortified by the emergence of three short-stick defensive midfielders in junior Tim Stone and freshmen Davis Anderson and Preston Dabbs.
Berkman conceded that returning to the national semifinals for the fourth consecutive season has not been a smooth journey.
“It’s been a trying year to find the right combinations with a couple kids getting hurt and being out for the season, a couple discipline problems, some guys having to be let go,” he said. “It’s been a trying year, but we’ve kind of settled into a pretty good core of kids who are on the same page and are playing well together and are starting to finish a little better so that we don’t have to hold somebody to a couple of goals to win the game.”