By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Drill for 12 minutes, scrimmage for 12 minutes. Drill for 12 minutes, scrimmage for 12 minutes.
After winning their third Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) Championship in the last four years, the Salisbury men’s lacrosse team (17-1, 8-0 CAC) continues the daily grind at practice each day with the NCAA Tournament coming in the middle of next week.
“There’s no down time. There’s a lot of playing, but there’s a lot of things we’re still working on in the drills. You get some fun to play full field. They’ll be a tired unit [later] because that’ll be two hours and 20 minutes of up and down the field in a variety of things,” SU head coach Jim Berkman said.
The focus and intensity must stay up for the Sea Gulls following their 15-5 victory over then-No.4 York College (Pa.) last Saturday. It was a commanding 11-1 lead for Salisbury over the Spartans at the halftime of the contest.
“We were just playing as a unit collectively. We were all on the same page. We knew what was on the table and what was at stake after last year. We wanted to come out and just put on a show, and we did just that,” senior goalkeeper Colin Reymann said.
That same confidence was in play on the field last Saturday as the Sea Gulls’ strong defense gave up only one goal on 11 shots to the Spartans in the first half of action. In addition, the SU offense opened the contest on an 11-0 run. Converting four goals on seven man-up opportunities and going a perfect 23-for-23 on attempted clears paved the way for the 2017 title.
“We just played really well. We played good in all aspects, but I also thought that we were extremely hungry on the groundball and we definitely won that battle, which led to some easy goals,” Berkman said.
With the two top defenses in the CAC on display, it was atypical to see such a disparity in groundballs with the Sea Gulls dominating the category 41-21 over York (Pa.). Salisbury’s physicality showed through alongside victories on 16 of 23 face-offs.
Leading the offensive charge for Salisbury was captain and senior attacker Nate Blondino, who tallied three goals and five assists for a total of eight points in the game. The CAC Player of the Year surpassed the 100-point mark for the second consecutive season with his eight in the victory. With his current number of 105 points in 2017, it is the most points in a season tallied by a Sea Gull since 2012 when attacker Matt Cannone finished with 130.
“Nate has continued to get better every year. He’s a complete player, a great feeder, a good shooter, a good finisher, a good rider—he’s just a great all-around attackman, and that’s been the evolution over the last few years,” Berkman said.
As a 2016 USILA Second Team All-American, Blondino sees the feats of his teammates before his own.
“I’d really just like to thank all of the guys around me. Without them, it wouldn’t be possible to do things like that and a majority of [my points] are assists, so that comes from other guys finishing the ball. They’re really getting it done,” Blondino said.
For Blondino, practice made perfect for the CAC Championship Game. That may be the hope for Salisbury headed into the final stretch of the 2017 postseason.
“I thought we had a great week of practice the week before. We were focused all week, and we really didn’t want to let up and let what happened last year happen again. We were coming out of the gates firing. I thought we really just executed our game plan,” Blondino said.
With about a week-and-a-half break between in-game action for Salisbury, the mission is to stay focused prior to their opening round NCAA action. This might be easier said than done.
Over the years, one underestimated advantage the Salisbury men’s lacrosse program has over others may just be their consistent appearances in the postseason, which offers more time on the field for not only the veteran stars, but also the next wave of talent to play in Sea Gull Stadium.
“This time is really good for the younger players. [Compared to] the teams that are home and not playing because their seasons are over, there’s a lot of younger players here that are getting three or more weeks of practice to work and to get better, which I think has always been a key for our program,” Berkman said.
This factor could prove to be very important for SU, considering the amount of talent and veteran leadership they are losing heading into the 2018 season.
With many full-field scrimmages and various drills, Berkman feels he has the right recipe to keep the Gulls on track toward their attempt to obtain a return trip to the final, which is in Boston this season. At the same time, with no opponent on the docket yet, the team has a chance to refine their own skills and crafts.
“We’ve had a chance to work some new wrinkles in. We’ve also had a chance to go back and do some fundamental work with the one-on-one’s and the two-on-two’s,” coach Berkman said.
Opponents may not want to see any more surprises or ‘wrinkles’ from Salisbury with the team seeing high national marks on both sides of the ball. SU is fifth in the nation in scoring offense at 16.94 goals per game, and their defense is good for eighth at 6.44 goals-against average.
With only one loss on the season, currently ranked No. 2 in the nation in both major polls and ranked No. 2 in the South Region in last week’s NCAA Regional Rankings, Salisbury is lined up to claim one of the top seeds in the NCAA Tournament. The Sea Gulls will discover who their potential opponents are when the NCAA holds their online selection show Sunday night at 9 p.m.
“We know we’re gonna have a tough five games to repeat, so we gotta stay focused for the next week-and-a-half, which we’ve been doing so far. We’ve had a great few days of practice, so we just have to continue that until next Wednesday,” Blondino said.