On Saturday, the Salisbury State lacrosse team expects to run past West Chester and improve to 11-0, equaling the best start in the Sea Gulls' history.
Salisbury State is enjoying its first-ever No. 1 ranking in the Division III poll, and home victories over West Chester, Hampden-Sydney and Washington would make for an unbeaten regular season. The NCAA selection committee would then consider making the Sea Gulls the top seed for the tournament -- giving them the home-field advantage as long as they keep winning. Coach Jim Berkman, however, is familiar with Division III lacrosse's version of the 500-pound gorilla.
"You know who the team to beat is," Berkman said.
Hobart, the New York power, has ruled the Division III tournament since it began in 1980. The Statesmen lost to Ohio Wesleyan last week, opening the door for Salisbury State to move up to No. 1. The Sea Gulls have no illusions about their status: Hobart hammered them 23-5 in last year's semifinals.
"That was a lesson," Berkman said. "We brought most of those players back, and a lot of them improved dramatically. We also had some solid people coming in for the first time, and we knew we had the opportunity to have a special team."
Three transfers from Essex Community College have made a difference. Midfielders Jeff Chenowith and Art Morley were also teammates at Fallston High, and Loch Raven's Geoff Sanders is splitting time in the goal with Scott Bentkowski, a senior from North Harford.
Berkman runs three midfields, and the beneficiaries of the transition game have been attackmen Rick Berkman, the coach's nephew, Eric Ungleich and Rusty Pritzlaff. The three have combined for 105 of the Sea Gulls' 196 goals.
"Those three finish as well as anyone at any level," Berkman said.
Maybe the Sea Gulls can even finish off Hobart's 11-year domination of Division III.
* Simon Bowen isn't ready to qualify for this season's NCAA championships, but Morgan State track and field coach Leonard Braxton is predicting big things for his freshman half-miler.
Bowen is a tall, strong 20-year-old from Jamaica. On the first good racing day of the season, he placed second in the UMES Spring Relays in 1 minute, 53.09 seconds. Braxton predicted he'll run 1:48 this season.
The young middle-distance talent in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference begins in Baltimore. Two of Bowen's chief rivals are Coppin State freshman Anthony Stewart and sophomore Sam Willoughby. They finished 1-2 in the MEAC 1,500 indoors, but both can go with Bowen in the 800.
Host George Mason is the favorite in the Colonial Athletic Association championships Saturday. It is the end of an era in Navy athletics, as it will be the Middies' final athletic event in the CAA. Navy is shifting to the Patriot League next fall.
* UMBC is fielding a softball team for the first time, and falling victim to a solid cast in the East Coast Conference. The Retrievers are 1-7 in the ECC, 3-14 overall, but they've gotten decent pitching from Monica Sparrow, a junior righthander from Lansdowne.
Rider and Drexel are two of the conference's three unbeaten teams, and both are led by pitchers from Anne Arundel County. Rider has Jennifer Grinath, a sophomore from Northeast, and Drexel features ECC Pitcher of the Week Heather Frey, a junior from Chesapeake.
Towson State's top pitcher is Kathy Mohr, a senior from C. Milton Wright.
* The 4,513 who saw Loyola's comeback over Towson State was a Curley Field record . . . The Loyola women lost a three-way coin flip, and are seeded third behind host William & Mary and James Madison in the South Atlantic lacrosse tournament this weekend . . . Towson State's Gina Daniel, a senior defender from Fallston, is the Player of the Week in the East Coast Conference . . . UMBC's Bob Mumma, a sophomore catcher from Rising Sun, leads the ECC in batting average, home runs and runs batted in.