The 2016 season saw the Salisbury University men’s lacrosse team climb back to the top of the Division III lacrosse ranks as its season ended at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia with a 14-13 win over Tufts University in the national title game. The win vaulted Head Coach Jim Berkman to the top of the college lacrosse coaching ranks in terms of championship victories and sent the senior class off with its first championship, securing the fact that every graduating class since 1994 has won at least one title.
Prior to the start of the 2016 season the team’s goal was straight forward, make it to Philadelphia and win the program’s 11th national championship. Coming into the 2017 season the Sea Gulls have their eyes set on a Memorial Day Weekend trip to Foxborough, Massachusetts and the opportunity to win the program’s 12th Division III National Championship.
“We have a strong contingent of players back from our championship team and the experience necessary,” Berkman said. “Our goal this season is to get back to Boston and win the program’s 12th title.”
The 2017 Gulls feature many familiar players from last year’s championship squad as well as some fresh faces that will look to make a name for themselves. The team returns six United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association All-Americans from a season ago as well as 55 percent of the team’s point production.
Leading the team will be a group of three captains in seniors Nathan Blondino, Brendan Bromwell, and Andrew Ternahan.
The starting three attackmen from the national championship game are back in the maroon and gold this season and will look to be one of the most dangerous attack units in the nation. The senior trio consists of Blondino, Carson Kalama, and Nick Garbarino.
Blondino comes back for his senior year after posting 101 points last season. The most balanced offensive option from last season, he posted 54 goals to go along with 47 assists. Blondino combines a mix of size, athleticism, and skill that will be challenging for opposing defenses all season. For his efforts last year, Blondino was a USILA Second-Team All-American.
Bringing back Kalama means the attack unit features two USILA All-Americans as he was named an Honorable-Mention All-American last season. With a knack for scoring in tight quarters, Kalama led the team in goals last season with 64 to go along with 21 assists for 85 points. Kalama’s .577 shooting percentage was first in the nation last season.
Garbarino became the team’s every day starter midway through last season due to injury and proved his worth immediately, getting a hat trick in four of the team’s last six games. On the season, he put home 29 goals and four assists. Garbarino brings a championship pedigree to the Gulls as after transferring from Onondaga Community College to Salisbury last season and putting in three goals and two assists against Tufts, Garbarino has won a national championship all three seasons he has played college lacrosse.
“I expect tremendous things from this group and we are excited to have the entire unit back,” Berkman said. “What’s been great so far is they look even a step ahead of where they were last season and we expect them to score a good chunk of goals and provide a good deal of leadership in the offensive end.”
Adding depth at the position is sophomore Kevin Bartenfelter and freshmen Josh Melton and Griffin Moroney who are all highly skilled lefties who could see some action as the season goes on.
The offensive and defensive midfield are the only positions for the team that do not return all of their regular contributors from a season ago. Last year’s team had nine All-Americans and only three are not coming back this season, with those three all being in the midfield. Included in the group is last season’s Iroquois Award winner for the National Player of the Year in Preston Dabbs and last season’s Fran McCall Award winner Thomas Cirillo as the nation’s top midfielder. However, Dabbs and Cirillo have exchanged their jersey’s for coaches’ polos this season and will help usher in the new era of midfielders for the Gulls.
“Our challenge this season is going to be developing a midfield,” Berkman said. “There is a lot of excitement and enthusiasm for some of the new guys but also still some places where guys need to step up.”
At the offensive midfield, the first line will consist of senior Brendan Bromwell, junior Garrett Reynolds, and sophomore Corey Gwin.
Bromwell is the team’s most versatile player as both an offensive threat and excellent defender when called upon. An Honorable-Mention All-American last season with 25 goals and 15 assists playing on the first midfield line. Bromwell is a premier athlete and brings an impressive shot that will look to stretch opposing defenses this season.
Reynolds anchored the second midfield last season to the tune of 30 goals and five assists. Reynolds has the ability to dodge both alleys and sweep over the top with top-level quickness and has a great shot as evidence from his 45.5 shooting percentage last season.
At the start of preseason Gwin found himself on the second line, after being on the team’s third line last season. However, Gwin was able to showcase his abilities and the hard work he put in over the offseason to be bumped up to the team’s top line.
“Bromwell had a tremendous fall and it’s great to see how things are coming together with the addition of Reynolds and Gwin to that first line,” said Berkman.
On the second midfield line, Berkman sees a logjam of talent where junior Hunter Schaeffer, and sophomores Kyle Richbourg and Zach Pompea have the early edge to fill out the line. Seniors Kevin McDermott and Adam Huber, and sophomore Nick Durtschi will make up the third line.
With the loss of two captains and four-year starters at the defensive midfield, a group of four players that Berkman is very high on will fill the void. Juniors Troy Miller and Jeremiah LaClair, sophomore Parker Stevens, and freshman Jared Walls have all impressed throughout the preseason and will fight for minutes. Miller and Walls are the two at the top of the depth chart coming into the spring but LaClair and Stevens add depth at the position that Berkman noted is crucial.
“We lost two four-year starters at the defensive midfield but it seems early on we answered the questions at the position,” Berkman said. “With guys like Miller, Walls, Stevens, and LaClair, we are very athletic and skilled at that position again.”
The long-stick midfield position for Berkman this season features a returning All-American, and in his words, a transfer who is a “bonafide All-American.” Ternahan comes back for his senior campaign after being named a Third-Team All-American last season with a team-leading 104 groundballs and 47 caused turnovers. Coming in after sitting out last season is Robert Morris University transfer Cory Berry, who has shown the ability to be a physical, takeaway defender with great stick skills. Berkman noted with the overload of talent at the position, it will be hard to not have them both on the field at the same time and that may happen in certain situations.
Sophomore Luke Reeder will also see minutes at the LSM position as the team’s third pole as the coaching staff has seen a significant jump in his play since his freshman season.
At the faceoff X, Duncan Campbell enters the season as the team’s top option. Campbell was an All-CAC performer last season and won 61.9 percent of his draws in 18 games played. Adding depth will be T.J. Logue who will be able to spell Campbell when need be. Logue had some big games for the team last season and won 55.0 percent of his attempts.
Like the attack, the defense returns all three starters, including two All-Americans. The elder statesman of the group will be senior Aaron Leeds who scooped up 61 groundballs and added 38 caused turnovers last year. Alongside Leeds is the junior duo of second team All-Americans Kyle Tucker and Will Nowesnick.
Leeds was a second-team All-CAC member last year as he started all 24 games and was able to scoop up 61 groundballs and cause 38 turnovers, while adding one goal and one assist. Tucker comes in as one of the nation’s best defenders and was named by Inside Lacrosse as the preseason choice for National Defender of the Year. During last season, Tucker had 66 groundballs and 49 caused turnovers while often covering the other team’s leading scorers. Nowesnick posted 53 groundballs and added 42 caused turnovers last season and is a rangy, athletic defender who could also find himself in the conversation for National Defender of the Year as the season progresses.
“We bring back the same three starters from the championship game, and all are a little bit better this time around,” Berkman said. “They had a great fall and all are a little stronger and a little faster than where they were at the end of last season.”
Pax Howard will move down low after playing long-stick midfield last season and will be the team’s fourth pole, while freshmen Kevin Murphy and Drew Borkowicz look to be slotted just below Howard.
The Sea Gulls return last year’s starter, Colin Reymann who missed the beginning of last season with an injury before starting the last 14 games. Reymann posted a 6.42 goals-against average last year to go along with a 58.6 save percentage. In the National Championship Game, Reymann was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player as he put up 15 saves, including a save on the door step to seal the win with under 10 seconds to play.
“Colin comes back after a strong finish to last season and we are hoping he can stay healthy this season and be our guy,” Berkman said. “He’s a goalie who brings it every day and we will lean on him to be the team’s last line of defense.”
Hayden Donnelly is the only other goalie returning from last season and he saw time in five games, picking up a 58.3 save percentage. The team also welcomes two freshman tenders in Brandon Warren and Chandler Dabbs. Coming into the spring Warren has the early nod as the team’s back up.
Salisbury opened up its title defense on Saturday, with a game against Methodist University at Sea Gull Stadium.
From there five of the Gulls’ next six games will be against nationally regarded out-of-conference opponents. In order, the Gulls play (received votes) Lynchburg College, (RV) Montclair State University, (No. 5) Gettysburg College, (No. 13) Ohio Wesleyan University, Washington (Md.) College, and (No. 12) Stevenson University before CAC action starts up.
“We always try to have one of the tougher schedules in Division III and I think it shows here,” Berkman said. “We have a tough out-of-conference schedule and the CAC is getting better every year so we don’t really get any breaks throughout the year.”
March 18 against the University of Mary Washington marks the Sea Gulls’ first CAC game. The CAC slate is headlined by a home game against (No. 7) York College of Pennsylvania on April 12, and games against a pair of teams that received votes in the national poll in Frostburg State University and Christopher Newport University.
Breaking up CAC play, the Gulls will take on (RV) Roanoke College on March 26 and end the regular season on the road against (No. 8) Cabrini College on April 14.