Still on streak, Gulls seek 4th title in row

College lacrosse

May 28, 2006|By KENT BAKER | KENT BAKER,SUN REPORTER

If Salisbury's men's lacrosse team had to decide between relinquishing the longest current winning streak in collegiate athletics or the national championship banner, there really wouldn't be a choice.

The Sea Gulls are proud of their 69-game victory streak, which dates back more than three years, but the title is what they truly seek each season.

"It's definitely something we're aware of," leading scorer Dan Boyer (Mount St. Joseph) said of the team's amazing run. "And we do think about it. But it's not our main goal, which is the championship. The streak is just an added bonus."

That makes today's NCAA Division III final against SUNY Cortland at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia the ultimate game for No. 1 Salisbury, which is striving to take a fourth consecutive trophy back to Maryland's Eastern Shore. If the streak is to end, this is not the time and the place for it.

"We put that [winning streak] number up in the locker room," said coach Jim Berkman, who is in his 18th season. "Our kids take a lot of pride in it, especially since we're right up there with the top streaks of all time."

Salisbury has eclipsed the all-division record for men's lacrosse, set in Division I by Cornell (42 from 1976 to 1978). It is believed that the record for all men's sports is the 88 consecutive basketball victories by UCLA from 1971 to 1974.

The Sea Gulls (20-0) have not lost since April 10, 2003, when Lynchburg stunned them in Salisbury, 13-12. Thirteen months earlier, they were beaten by visiting Cortland, 11-5, in the most recent meeting between this year's finalists.

Berkman knows his team faces an imposing chore after barely surviving a scare from Roanoke in the semifinals on Jimmy Creighton's goal in overtime. The Sea Gulls uncharacteristically turned the ball over and squandered a six-goal lead in the second half.

"Cortland has a very athletic team with good speed. And they're physical," Berkman said. "Their top three scorers are all seniors and some of their players have [Division] I experience."

But Salisbury can counter the Red Dragons' experience with plenty of its own.

"I think it helps a lot that the seniors have already been to three national championships," Boyer said. "We know the pressure. And, for the younger players, we played Washington College at the Ravens' stadium this year, so they've been in a pro site."

Said Berkman: "We're fortunate that this is the fourth year we've been on this stage. We kind of know the drill. ... I don't think this is going to be anything different."

Salisbury knew its offense would be laden with firepower this season, but there were questions surrounding the defense and goalie, where graduation had exacted a heavy toll.

"This team is very unselfish at the offensive end and we've got nine guys with quite a few points," Berkman said. "All of them [including midfielders] handle the ball like attackmen. We knew we were going to score.

"There was more concern on defense because we had a lot of new people. We didn't know what the answer was going to be in the cage and at close defense. We weren't sure they were ready to make the step, but they definitely have."

Goalie Max Zarchin (St. Mary's) has been a particularly pleasant surprise while starting 19 times. The Sea Gulls' opponents are averaging just 6.41 goals per game.

"Max and the defense as a whole have really done the job," said Boyer, Salisbury's second-leading all-time goal scorer, who has scored 66 times this year while connecting on an astounding 71 percent of his attempts. "It was really a question mark, but we have kids who are great players just waiting for people to graduate and get their chance."

Salisbury has a distinctive Maryland flavor, with more than half the team residing in the state.

"We feel very fortunate," Berkman said. "A lot of good players have come here and a lot have developed while they've been here. They want to play for the maroon and gold and in 18 years I can't say we ever lost a game because they didn't play hard."

Said Boyer: "I think all of us feel the same way about that. Every game we go out to uphold that winning tradition in that uniform. You know the alumni are watching. We've been lucky enough not to lose any while wearing it. I'm sure none of us wants to be wearing it in a loss."

Especially not today.

kent.baker@baltsun.com

Today's games

Division III final

No. 1 Salisbury (20-0) vs. No. 5 SUNY Cortland (17-3)

Time -- 2:30 p.m.

Site -- Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia

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