When Chris Phillips scored the winning goal in overtime to lift Salisbury to its fourth NCAA Division III men's lacrosse championship a year ago, Sea Gulls goalie Dan Korpon stood at the other end of the field - thunderstruck.
"I was just kind of in awe," said Korpon, who attended Severna Park High. "I didn't know quite what to think. I tried not to let it take hold of me. What had happened didn't really set in until the next October, when we got our rings."
One of the heroes of that 14-13 victory over Middlebury, with two clutch saves late in the game, one of which he pinned in the mud, Korpon might receive the opportunity to reprise that numbing moment today when undefeated and No. 1-ranked Salisbury seeks to break the school record with its 20th win in the 2004 finale against Nazareth at M&T Bank Stadium.
He might be in the mood to do a little more celebrating this time if the Sea Gulls complete their run to perfection. The junior, who has started every game since he stepped onto the Eastern Shore campus, is hot right now.
"Dan has played six or seven really good games in a row," said veteran Salisbury coach Jim Berkman. "He's much improved and has had a great year. How many goalies does anyone know who has won 38 of his last 39 games?"
That lofty record is precisely the reason Korpon enrolled at Salisbury. He had his sights set on attending Notre Dame, but he didn't qualify academically, so the choice boiled down to Salisbury or Saint Joseph's in Philadelphia.
"I really wanted to go to Notre Dame. I was pretty banged after not getting in there," he said. "It took me a little while to decide what was the best other option. I came here because a lot of my friends were here. And a huge factor was the winning. I knew that here - as opposed to St. Joe's - there was the potential to win a couple of championships."
Consider the numbers. Since instituting the sport in 1974, Salisbury is 377-102; during Berkman's 16-year tenure, the record is 235-29. The Sea Gulls have made 26 NCAA appearances, had an NCAA-record, 64-game regular-season winning streak at one point and have produced 94 All-Americans. In 1994, the school emerged as the first undefeated national champion in the history of the tournament, a feat repeated the next year.
Korpon wanted to be part of that success, but he wanted no part of the running part of the game.
"I was an attackman and a midfielder for a while in high school," he remembered. "But I was getting tired of running and getting sticks beat on me. I hate running. Like in that heat [last] Sunday [in the 13-11 semifinal victory over rival Washington College]. All those guys were running around and dying, and I was just standing there."
His energy is expended instead through his emotions, which he wears on his sleeves.
"He's a real emotional goalie and plays with a lot of fire," Berkman said. "He's not the biggest guy [5 feet 10, 155 pounds], but he's quick out of there, with quick hands and a good, lively stick. Great defense is what wins championships, and you've got to have a guy in the back who will make a couple of saves he probably shouldn't have, the kind when guys are shooting from in tight. He is that guy."
Said Korpon: "I like playing in front of crowds. They get you going, and I feed off that. Our fans are awesome. When we go away, it's almost like a home game the way we're supported. I'm emotional, but you've got to control it. You get too high and you make bad choices."
The Sea Gulls play an aggressive style at both ends of the field, so Korpon must follow suit. The defenders attack attackers; they don't lie back in a zone.
"It doesn't hurt to have two All-Americans [Eric Martin and Jeff Bigas] in front of me," said Korpon, who has a 6.72 goals-against average and 396 career saves, fifth on the school's all-time list. "The whole defense does a whole lot for me. Without them, I'd be nothing. My quickness helps, but I've got some big guys in front, so I can stay back and see the shots. I don't have to keep turning like the defenders."
An economics and finance major, Korpon concentrates mightily at practice and in games, but when it's over, it's over.
"I don't think about anything else except lacrosse 30 minutes before, during practice and the games, and 30 minutes after," he said. "Outside of that, I try not to think of the game at all."
He might revamp that policy if the Sea Gulls bag another title today - and even allow himself to do a little running into the mob of jubilant teammates.
"It's the greatest feeling to go back to Baltimore like this. They treat you like you're a professional," he said. "This is why you get up at 6 in the morning to [let players] take shots at you."
At M&T Bank Stadium
Division III men
Nazareth (16-2) vs. Salisbury (19-0), noon
Division II men
Le Moyne (15-0) vs. Limestone (15-1), 3 p.m.