By Chris Mackowiak
The last time we saw the Salisbury men’s lacrosse team was on May 29 when the team rushed Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. On that day, the Sea Gulls won their eleventh national championship under head coach Jim Berkman with a 14-13 victory over Tufts University. On Saturday, the whole team and coaching staff still had smiles on their faces for the unveiling of their national title rings.
With Salisbury University now in the fall 2016 semester, seniors have come and gone with some players returning to their home towns as far away as California. But everyone returned to celebrate what united them all a few months ago: the journey to Philadelphia.
“It’s awesome. It’s something you dream of as a kid. It’s something I’ve been dreaming of. My sister won two national championships here, so I’ve seen the rings and the ceremonies. I’ve always just wanted to win one,” senior attackman Nathan Blondino said, who finished with a team-leading 101 points.
For the unveiling of the ultimate prize–a national championship ring–the team held a ceremony in Holloway Hall which was open to the public and, of course, all of the supporters, friends and family that had an integral part in the national championship run.
“It was awesome. That’s why we come here, to win a championship. To kind of finish it all off at the end of our journey as seniors with the ring and a trophy in our last ever real game we’ll ever play is the best feeling ever. It’s just a testament to our hard work and all the coaching and everything that came before us,” former middie Tom Cirillo said. Cirillo was named a First Team All-American following the season.
Berkman, along with the rest of the coaching staff, gave out awards to many of players that made up the 50-person team roster. Awards ranged from statistical leaders to most improved players. Overall, 10 players on the team received All-American honors.
“I think one of the things that was a key to our success was that we were pretty good at everything. I don’t know if we were truly outstanding at any one thing, but we didn’t really have a weakness. We had a solid goalie and defense. We had good middies and attackmen. We were just a very consistent team throughout the different positions which allowed us to compete with what the other team’s strength was,” Berkman said.
Salisbury University President Dr. Janet Dudley-Eshbach and SU Athletic Director Dr. Gerry DiBartolo were both on hand for the ceremony, and both of them gave distinguished remarks about the team and legendary head coach Berkman.
Dr. Dudley-Eshbach also presented Berkman with a decree from Maryland Governor Larry Hogan congratulating him with the championship. To put Berkman’s accomplishments into perspective, legendary UCLA basketball head coach John Wooden has 10. Berkman now has the same number as UCONN women’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma, who also won his eleventh championship last spring.
With this being his eleventh national championship celebration, some may think that for Berkman, winning must get old, but for a man that has played lacrosse since the age of 16, it is a whole different story.
“Going to championship weekend in lacrosse is like no other sport because it’s the pinnacle of lacrosse. You go to the championship weekend. It’s the final four. It’s the biggest event of lacrosse in the world,” Berkman said.
“Other than the day you get married and the day your children are born, it’s the third greatest thing in life,” Berkman continued.
The big unveil of the championship ring came after the opening remarks. A poster was uncovered to reveal a new addition to the Sea Gull Stadium locker room. The poster displays all 11 national championship rings along with the year the championship was won.
The final ring design, created by a former player, features Sammy the Sea Gull wrapped in the letter “S” with 11 gemstones within the letter, representing the 11 national titles. The phrase “2016 National Champions” borders the front logo. On each side are separate images.
On one side is the National Collegiate Athletic Association lacrosse championships logo with each recipient’s name personally crafted into the ring along with the team’s overall record of 23-1. On the other side is a silhouette of Sea Gull Stadium with the title “Sea Gu11 Stadium” around it with the number “11” replacing the two letters in “Gull.”
While the players alongside friends and family were in awe of their recent accomplishment and the beauty of the rings, there was excitement and energy in the air for the upcoming season.
“You have to think about how special that moment was, and then the opportunity we have this year to kind of repeat the same thing. We have a lot of guys coming back. The excitement’s there. The talent is there. All of the spirits are pretty high right now. No one wants to be there again more than anyone here right now,” senior long stick middie Andrew Ternahan said.
This week prior to the ceremony, Salisbury was out on the field working. The day before was the last day of the fall ball stretch, in which the team conducts practices in the offseason. Players and coaches noticed something different within the returning players compared to the spring. At the end of the day, once the taste is there, there always seems to be a yearning to get it back.
“One of the hardest things to do is repeat and go back-to-back. As a team, we’ve been working extra hard and finished fall ball last night. I thought we had a great fall ball. Everybody was working. We know we have a target on our back, but we’re ready for it,” Blondino said.
Despite a strong senior class departing from Salisbury, most of the key players on the team return for a run at back-to-back national championships. The veteran head coach has had success in his career the season after winning a national title. On five separate occasions, Salisbury has won back-to-back national championships.
“Getting to the championship has never been something that we’re going to rest our oars on. We’re always going to say ‘hey, let’s get back,’” Berkman said.
With rings on their fingers and spirits high, the Salisbury team moves ahead in their preparation for the first games of the 2017 season in February. At least for one weekend, they will take a pause from the mission to celebrate a job well-done.