Wing of `a genius'

No. 1 Gulls soar on success of coach

Salisbury coach Jim Berkman

April 26, 2008|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun reporter

SALISBURY -- Being called a second-half team is not an insult to Salisbury men's lacrosse.

That's not to say that the Sea Gulls, ranked No. 1 in Division III by Inside Lacrosse, overlook the importance of the first half. Rather, it's a recognition of the mastery of their coach, Jim Berkman.

A week ago, Salisbury walked into halftime with a three-goal cushion against No. 10 Villa Julie in the Capital Athletic Conference tournament. In the locker room, Berkman adjusted the offense to feature a two-man game between senior midfielder Bruce Richardson and sophomore midfielder Mike Von Kamecke, both of whom were marked by short-stick defensive midfielders.

A quarter later, the Sea Gulls had scored nine unanswered goals en route to a 10-goal victory.

With Salisbury trailing No. 2 Gettysburg, 7-2, at halftime March 29, Berkman adjusted the slide packages on defense. The result was just one second-half goal for the Bullets and an 11-8 Sea Gulls win.

"He does it offensively, he does it defensively," junior defenseman Kevin Maynard said. "He's not just single-minded. He looks at the whole field. He's a genius."

Berkman is poised to enhance his reputation. If Salisbury (17-0) defeats No. 4 Washington College (12-1) at 1 p.m. today in another installment of the teams' "War on the Shore" series, Berkman will tie former Army coach Jack Emmer's NCAA record of 326 career wins.

Berkman, 48, who has a 325-35 record in 21 years of coaching, said he never envisioned himself reaching this stage in his career.

"I don't think anybody ever thinks about that," he said. "When you start coaching, you're worried about getting a job."

Job security isn't an issue for Berkman, who has guided the Sea Gulls to seven national championships, three more title-game appearances and an NCAA tournament bid each year. Before Berkman, six coaches combined for a 142-73 record with no championship games and five seasons without a tournament bid.

Navy coach Richie Meade, who has asked Berkman to work at several lacrosse camps at Navy specializing with attackmen, said he sees no reason for Berkman to leave his position.

"The way people typically think is why wouldn't he try to get a Division I job?" Meade said. "I think he's established himself as an outstanding teacher, an outstanding coach and an outstanding mentor and is very content with the program that he's built. I'm sure he's very gratified with the relationships he's established at Salisbury. It's a great thing to see him coaching at a place where he's had a lot of success."

As with any person enjoying an enviable amount of success, Berkman has been the target of criticism. Some have questioned his record, saying the wins are of diminished quality compared with those on the Division I level.

Emmer, an ESPN analyst, adamantly disagrees with that assertion.

"Coaching is coaching. It doesn't really matter what level you're on," Emmer said. "When [Georgetown coach] Dave Urick was at Hobart winning 10 straight championships, a lot of people said that he wouldn't be as successful in Division I. But he's still been very successful. He hasn't won 10 national championships, but I don't think you should take away anything from Jim Berkman's success. He's done it year after year after year, which speaks well for him."

Considering that Berkman has yet to reach age 50, the question is: How many wins will he collect before he retires? At the current pace, Berkman could reach 500 victories before he turns 60.

"I don't think about the total at all," he said. "I live every day for the moment -- whether it's lacrosse or how far I'm going to ride my bike at lunchtime or my motorcycle at night when practice is over. Obviously, being 48 years old, I've definitely got a few years left. Given that, I could go 12, 14 or 17 more years and, hopefully, Salisbury University will let me coach here."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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