By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
The ‘War at the Shore’ rivalry is the high point of non-conference play for the men’s lacrosse teams at Salisbury University and Washington College. But now, is that same rivalry extending to the pitch?
Just like men’s lacrosse, the rivalry between the schools has extended onto a different playing field in recent years: the soccer field. Since the hiring of Roy Dunshee as head coach at Washington College five years ago, the Shoremen have grown as a program each year. While Salisbury’s title as top team on the Eastern Shore still stands true, their reign in the series has been tested lately.
Last season, the Sea Gulls traveled to Chestertown early in the season for yet another installment of the battle. After initially exchanging penalty kicks, a hard fought match on both sides would head to overtime deadlocked at 2-2. With less than three minutes left on the clock, now-senior Salisbury midfielder Brad Martinelli crossed the ball over to then-senior midfielder Michael Feeney who placed it in the back of the net for the win. This has been the closest the Shoremen have come to defeating the Sea Gulls in recent years.
“It’s a great rivalry. When I was first hired, we were not very competitive in the rivalry. Each year we’ve played, we’ve become more competitive and we’ve gotten closer to knocking Salisbury off. We got particularly close last year. It’s going to be tough to get a result at Salisbury, but we know that because their team is intact, and they have so many dangerous players,” Washington College head coach Roy Dunshee said.
This season, the Shoremen return most of their team after graduating only four seniors. Despite Salisbury graduating a larger portion of players, the Sea Gulls return most of their stout defensive backline from a year ago alongside much depth on offense, setting up for maybe the best chapter yet in a developing rivalry.
The Sea Gulls come off their weekend tournament at the Seahawk Classic held at St. Mary’s College of Maryland where Salisbury went (1-0-1).
Per the usual in the Salisbury men’s soccer program, defense is the most consistent strength on the team. After recording a 0.62 goals against average (GAA) last season, the defense has put up a 0.31 GAA through their first three games. The defensive line contains captain Kevin Miller at right back and Nick Carrington at left back, who both can launch up the flanks on the attack. At centerback, the Sea Gulls are currently in a rotation between three players: Essex Community College transfer Colby Fell, captain Mike Kramer, and goal-scorer Nathaniel Eiben.
“They’re making it a tough time for the coaching staff. We’re taking it game by game. We’re gonna look at who we’re playing and who we think is going to be our best combination or best option on the day. All of those guys have been very successful during their time in there,” Salisbury head coach Alex Hargrove said. “It’s great that we’ve got that luxury. At the end of the day, Nate Eiben brings a great ability in the air; Mike Kramer brings excellent communication and organization; Colby Fell brings a level of distribution that is a little bit above the other guys. They all have their strengths, but it’s just about finding the pairing that will give us the most success on the day.”
One big matchup will be the Washington defense up against the Salisbury offense’s key offensive piece. At the top of the formation is senior forward Leslie Umunna, who led the team in goals with seven last season. Umunna, who has three goals this season, gives opposing defenses fits with his athleticism and physicality while holding up the ball for his teammates.
“He’s such a big, strong player. Maybe what we have going in our favor is that we have a lot of big strong players too,” Dunshee said. “He’s unique, so we’re going to have to worry about him. I think we’ll try to deny him the ball as best we can. Then, we’re going to have to try to match his physicality and his pace.”
Besides Umunna, junior Brooks Zentgraf is the other man to watch on the offensive end, especially on the wings. The forward uses his speed to exploit space on the outside that is typically caused by defenders covering Umunna.
“This game against Washington has been a competitive one for a number of years now. They brought in a new coach a few years ago, and he’s done a good job building the program. We’re looking forward to another competitive match, one that hopefully ends in an earlier result than last year,” Hargrove said.
Washington College (1-3)
For Washington College, the experienced team is having a tough time to get the season going, especially after an 0-2 weekend at their annual Delmarva Cup Tournament. Their only win this season came on the road with all three losses coming at home. With only three goals through four matches to start the season, the Shoremen may be due to break the floodgates and put some in the back of the net.
“We’re due for a win. Often in soccer, goals come in bunches. So, we’re just hoping some bunches come on Wednesday,” Dunshee said.
Because the Shoremen have enough height and physicality to hold back the Sea Gulls’ offense, the true question for Wednesday’s match is whether the team can score enough to keep up with and overtake the Sea Gulls. Most of Washington’s key returners are on the offensive end.
Their three top goal scorers return including senior Chris Lewandowski, junior Michael Holowesko and senior Brian Wilkinson, who has a goal and an assist already this season.
“The guy we really need to keep a close eye on is their No. 9 [Wilkinson]. He usually plays as one of their highest forwards. He’s developed a pretty good relationship with the guys playing in behind him there. So anytime he’s in and around the ball, he’s dangerous,” Hargrove said.
With multiple veterans back and united, Coach Dunshee foresees the team giving Salisbury more trouble than last year through possession.
“We found that against Salisbury direct play is rarely successful. They’re not just gonna let you play over the top, they’re too wise. We’re gonna have to try to have some sustained attacks where we’re gonna have to try to keep the ball for a little while and run around. Again, not easily done against Salisbury, particularly at Salisbury. So that’s our challenge,” Dunshee said.
The next installment of the developing rivalry is at 4 p.m. at the SU Soccer Complex on Wednesday. It will be a battle of offensive tempos and defensive physicality that will probably mark Salisbury’s best non-conference home matchup.