Coffman, Salisbury aim to dethrone Hobart

May 29, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

By his own admission, Jason Coffman is not blessed with a physique that will earn him any Mr. Universe awards.

"I've got a round body. I'm not a fast, big guy," said Coffman, who is 5 feet 8 and 195 pounds. "I'm not the strongest guy on the field. I'm not going to run by anyone with my blazing speed."

No one is feeling sorry for Coffman. His Salisbury State lacrosse teammates like him just the way he is. His size has not been detrimental to his scoring, or to the respect he has earned from defenders who have failed to contain one of the nation's top attackmen the past two years.

Salisbury State has marched to Coffman's beat throughout the spring. He'll be leading the parade today when his team brings its 15-0 record to Byrd Stadium to try to unseat perennial defending national titlist Hobart in the NCAA Division III championship game.

The Sea Gulls have outscored their opponents by a 301-103 margin, averaging 20.7 goals and giving up only 6.9. They have no glaring weakness, with a quick-strike offense their most prominent trademark.

That's where Coffman, a sophomore from Carthage, N.Y., who appears headed for more All-America honors, dominates.

You want a guy who has a nose for the net? Coffman leads the team with 66 goals, which he has piled up despite missing one game and part of another with a separated shoulder. Coffman is also second on the team with 35 assists.

The Sea Gulls are loaded with scoring threats. Four players have at least 20 goals and 10 have at least 10. But Coffman is the leader.

"We have a lot of no-name players who are pretty good, but if we really need a goal, he [Coffman] knows he's going to get the ball," Salisbury State coach Jim Berkman said. "He makes all the right decisions. He's one of the best finishers in the country."

Coffman has finished his share of teams this year with his combination of toughness, strength and creativity. He is equally adept at firing from the outside or backing in a defender and taking a higher percentage shot. Four times this spring, Coffman has tallied seven or eight goals. He has yet to be held scoreless. He has underscored his value with a terrific postseason.

In the Division III quarterfinals, Coffman recorded six goals and three assists as the Sea Gulls crushed Washington, 24-6. Last week in the semifinals against Gettysburg, Coffman had four goals and five assists in the Sea Gulls' 20-11 victory.

Coffman needs six points today to break the Division III tournament record of 23. With three points, he will break the single-season school record of 103, shared by Dave Cottle and Rick Berkman. Coffman should break Cottle's career scoring record easily next year. Coffman is one of only four Sea Gulls to score more than 100 points in a season.

"I love going against him in practice, because he makes my game that much better," said sophomore Chris McQueeney, the leader of the Sea Gulls' defense.

"He's deceiving with his quickness. And with that wide body and the way he handles the stick, you can't take the ball away from him. Looking at him, you wouldn't think he's as good as he is."

Many college lacrosse coaches thought that way when Coffman was winding up an outstanding, three-sport career at Carthage High School. Coffman earned All-State honors at linebacker. He took third place in the state sectional wrestling meet at 167 pounds.

By the time his high school days were ending, though, Coffman had become hooked on lacrosse, which was introduced at Carthage during his freshman year.

"The new lacrosse coach was looking for players, and he came to my house to show me some tapes of defense and attack. Attack was what I liked," Coffman said.

During his senior year, Coffman scored 145 points to lead Carthage to an undefeated regular season. That year, Berkman, who hails from Watertown -- 10 miles from Carthage -- came after Coffman. He picked Salisbury State over Nazareth.

"Nobody had ever heard of Carthage High lacrosse, and no one from Carthage had ever been named an All-American," Coffman said.

Coffman changed that with a dynamic freshman season. He immediately established himself as the team's top scoring threat. By the time the Sea Gulls' 13-1 season ended with a 12-11 loss to Washington in the NCAA quarterfinals, Coffman had 51 goals and 38 assists. A year later, Coffman has the Sea Gulls a victory away from making history.

"This year has been great for me. Last year, I felt I had to score to keep the team going at times. This year, we've got so many people who can make things happen," Coffman said. "Without our defense and the other attackmen around me [Sean Radebaugh and Paul Smith], I wouldn't have half the points that I do."

TODAY'S GAME: DIVISION III MEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP

HOBART (11-2) vs. SALISBURY STATE (15-0)

Site/time: Byrd Stadium, College Park, 2 p.m.

Radio: WTGM (960 AM), tape delay, after Orioles-White Sox baseball game.

Series: Hobart leads, 5-0.

Outlook: After dominating the Division III ranks for 20 years, defending champion Hobart, winners of 13 of 14 Division III tournaments, moves next year to Division I. The Sea Gulls would like avenge a 12-11 loss to Hobart in the 1991 finals, the only time Salisbury has played for a national title. They have never been better equipped to pull it off. They are averaging 20.7 goals, giving up only 6.9, and have outscored their two playoff opponents, 44-17. Sophomore attackman Jason Coffman (66 goals, 35 assists) leads the offense. It includes nine players with at least 20 points, led by attackmen Sean Radebaugh (43, 39) and Paul Smith (35, 16) and midfielder Dan Mergott (20, 19). Hobart's outstanding attack is led by Matt Crowther (24, 27), Eric Curry (32, 14) and Cabell Maddux (20, 10). Hobart has won 11 consecutive games.

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