Unrivaled Sea Gulls aim to avenge 2006 title loss

SUNY Cortland ended 69-game win streak

May 27, 2007|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Reporter

If you think Salisbury is going to get after SUNY Cortland in the NCAA Division III men's lacrosse final this afternoon, you should have seen the Sea Gulls compete last fall.

Since April 2003, the only thing between Salisbury and perfection is an overtime loss to Cortland in last season's final.

They'll give championship weekend at M&T Bank Stadium a rematch this afternoon, but avenging the demise of an NCAA-record 69-game winning streak isn't behind the top-ranked Sea Gulls' 22-0 record.

With a 19-year mark of 298-30, coach Jim Berkman has a dynasty built around an affordable price, a burgeoning population and his own edge.

The public institution in Wicomico County has nearly 7,000 undergraduates, with Maryland residents paying about $14,000 for tuition, fees, room and board, a great value considering the cost at Centennial Conference schools exceeds $40,000 per year.

As legions of young men with lacrosse sticks migrate to the Lower Eastern Shore, the occasional high school All-American loses a roster spot to a rival who's hungrier and more athletic.

"We've had kids come in who thought they were all-world and discover `maybe my stick isn't that good, maybe I'm not quite that fast,'" Berkman said.

Salisbury is playing in its fifth straight NCAA final, and Berkman is in position to become just the second man with seven NCAA titles to his credit.

Before he went to Georgetown, Dave Urick won 10 Division III titles in as many seasons at Hobart.

The Statesmen eventually moved their men's lacrosse program to Division I, where their nonscholarship status makes them a small fish in a big pond. Nazareth, Middlebury and now Salisbury have had their runs atop Division III, the Sea Gulls being honed by having to first prove themselves on campus.

Matt Dasinger and Brett Yoder, from Baltimore County public schools who run on Salisbury's first midfield with Kylor Berkman, the coach's son, will attest to the value of that crucible.

Dasinger helped Franklin reach a state final in 2003, but had few college options.

"Nobody else looked at me," Dasinger said. "I wasn't recruited to play here, but I was given a chance to walk on. We get so many guys trying out, he [Berkman] is the only guy I know who has to make cuts in the fall. You have to prove to him that you deserve a spot."

Just as Salisbury prepared to go south on spring break in 2005, Dasinger began to see plays develop and moved from a fourth midfield nonentity to running on the second.

He bumped then-freshman Yoder, who had stood out on state championship football and lacrosse teams at Hereford, but found that there were plenty more like him at Salisbury, which has never lost a game in the Capital Athletic Conference.

"A lot of players who get cut here could probably start somewhere else," Yoder said. "Coach [Berkman] brings in high-caliber players, and everyone around you is good. Matt Hittinger was one of the last guys on the depth chart two years ago. Matt Hickman lost a coin toss as a freshman, and didn't get new gloves."

Hickman, a junior attackman out of Georgetown Prep, developed a right hand to go with his cannon of a left, and scored 70 goals this season. Hittinger, from Springfield, Pa., grew into a 6-foot-2, 225-pound defenseman.

Berkman's rotation includes seven transfers, such as two-time CAC Player of the Year Chase Caruso (Sacred Heart), goalkeeper Max Zarchin (St Mary's, Anne Arundel Community College) and defenseman Kyle Hartzell (Archbishop Curley, CCBC-Essex), who made his depth even more impressive.

Berkman, a three-sport athlete at St. Lawrence University, hasn't mellowed with age.

"It doesn't matter who you're playing, or if it's tiddlywinks, if you lost your last game, you're going to be motivated," Berkman said. "If I were to happen to lose a game of racquetball to one of my assistants - not that I think that's going to happen - next time out, they would feel the wrath of my intensity."

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

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