BY RICKY POLLITT
No matter what the sport, no matter what the level, the phrase “defense wins championships” is a common line known among athletes.
For several years it is what the Salisbury men’s lacrosse team relied on to get them to the national championship game and ultimately win them the title.
Behind a shutdown group of defenders and a long list of talented goalies, the defense has been a major reason for Salisbury’s success the last several years.
However, for the first time, the Gulls will rely on their offense to carry the defense. After losing one of the best defenders in the nation in Knute Kraus, and replacing one of the most successful goalies in Connor Anderson, Salisbury is left in a rare spot to see if the offense can take the team to the promise land.
“This is the first year the offense probably has an edge over the defense,” senior midfielder Preston Dabbs said. “I look at some of the other guys and say ‘wow’ this is something I’ve never seen while I was here.”
Although Salisbury has been known for its defense, many strong offensive players have worn the maroon and gold and scored a large volume of goals for the Gulls.
Salisbury is returning a number of attackmen who have had much success playing under head coach Jim Berkman. Despite the loss of Mike Kane, who graduated last spring, the Gulls will rely on players like Thomas Cirillo and Carson Kalama who led the team in scoring last year combining for 98 goals.
“That first line (of offense) is looking amazing, and the second line is really, really fast,” Berkman said. “(Cirillo) is in the best shape of his life. He’s been a great leader, and we’re excited to see what he does his senior year.”
Along with Kalama and Cirillo, Salisbury returns several other offensive threats that helped the Gulls average 14 goals a game in 2015.
James Burton and Nathan Blondino combined for 52 goals and 35 assists while Dabbs and fellow midfielder Andrew Ternahan helped out on both sides of the ball, causing 42 turnovers and scooping up 100 ground balls between the two of them.
Salisbury also gets a new, but familiar face back in the lineup. Attackman Brady Dashiell sat out the 2015 season, but returns hoping to pick up where he left off in 2014.
Despite the inexperience on the defensive side, Ternahan, Dabbs and senior midfielder Davis Anderson, who was named a team captain, believe they can help the defense get back to the level it once was.
“We’ve had guys step up, and it’s good to see if a guy does go down someone else steps up,” Dabbs said. “A lot of young guys are working hard, so we’ll just have to see how it works outs.”
Perhaps the biggest question mark for the Sea Gulls will be in the cage. Before last season, Salisbury relied on Alex Taylor who shut down opposing offenses and had a goals against average of 6.74.
In 2015, it took Salisbury a few games to find their true goalie, but after three games, Anderson stepped up and ended with a 4.9 GAA; the best in Division III.
Anderson has since graduated, making Berkman and his team wonder once again who is going to be their next goalie.
At the end of fall ball, Berkman went with Colin Reymann, a junior who recorded almost 80 minutes in goal last season. Reymann recorded 10 saves and had a GAA of 8.41 in 2015.
Unfortunately for Salisbury, Reymann broke his hand in practice, leaving a bigger question mark at the goalie position.
“We have a little bit of a goalie issue right now, so if we had a game tomorrow, Anthony Stavrakis would start,” Berkman said.
Stavrakis came into 2015 as what many fans believed to be the next Alex Taylor. Overshadowed by Anderson, Stavrakis only saw 50 minutes in the goal and struggled early on in the season.
However, both Berkman and the team have seen improvements from both Reymann and Stavrakis and believe whoever does end up starting will have the tools and experience needed to stop opposing offenses from scoring.
“I think right now it’s just a lot of getting adjusted, but I’ve said it from the beginning, I’m going to support whoever’s playing the best and guys have stepped up,” Dabbs said. “Anthony is playing out of his mind.”
Lacrosse Magazine ranked Salisbury as the fourth best team at the beginning of the preseason. The Gulls will have a chance to prove early on if they are worthy of the high ranking as they face some of the top teams in DIII their first few weeks.
Salisbury opens their season against Hampton-Sydney, but will return home on Feb. 13 to face Lynchburg; the team that defeated them in the NCAA tournament last season. Lynchburg was ranked No. 2 by Lacrosse Magazine.
“We play the top teams in the nation in the first five weeks, but it is what it is,” Berkman said. “To help increase our chances for success we just have to work hard every day.” The match against Lynchburg will mark the first home game inside the newly built Sea Gull Stadium, and it is a game the team wants to win not only for themselves, but for their fans also.
“It’s definitely going to be special. I’m at a loss for words where I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like, but I’m looking forward to it,” Dabbs said.
Salisbury hasn’t won a National Championship since 2012, but with the offense they have and the players on defense stepping up, every player and coach on the team expects to be holding up the trophy come the end of May.
“We’re ready to get back there and win it,” Berkman said.