By Chris Mackowiak
Who: No. 1 Salisbury University (2-0) hosts Montclair State
Where: Sea Gull Stadium
When: Sat. at 1pm
How to watch: Sea Gull Sports Network
Two weeks ago it was a dominant season-opening win vs. Methodist University. Last week it was a nail-biting win at Lynchburg College. Now, the defending-National Champions turn their attention to the Montclair State Red Hawks Saturday afternoon in Sea Gull Stadium.
Salisbury’s win over Lynchburg was much closer than anticipated. Now SU head coach Jim Berkman and the Gulls look to perfect their previous mistakes in a match-up against the defending-Skyline Conference champion Red Hawks.
“I think we had some chances to put the game away a few times (vs. Lynchburg.) In the third quarter, I think we were up eight to six and we had two transition opportunities and we didn’t get an open shot on goal,” Coach Berkman said.
Last year’s match-up
Montclair State began their 2016 campaign with the same match-up a season ago. Entering 2017, the Red Hawks will be looking for different results to pan out after last season’s 23-7 loss.
The Sea Gull offense dominated the match early on entering the second quarter with a 5-2 lead. Then-junior attackman Carson Kalama led Salisbury with seven goals, alongside five goals and two assists from then-junior attackman Nathan Blondino.
Two key areas that the Red Hawks did get the upper hand in were in face-offs and in man-down situations. Salisbury only won nine of the 33 face-offs in the game, despite averaging about 57 percent as a team in 2016. The Sea Gulls also possessed one of the highest man-up success rates in the country at 48 percent all season, but Montclair State held SU to one goal in five opportunities.
Losses from a season ago
While Salisbury has two games under their belt in 2017, this is the first for Montclair State. This also means it’s the first time that the Red Hawks have had a chance to adjust to the monumental personnel loss from a season ago, particularly on the offensive side.
On the offensive end, the Red Hawks lose just under 43 percent of their 243 goals from a season ago. Most notably, attackman Brett Mangan led the squad in points (80), goals (44), and assists (36) and also received first team all-conference honors. Skyline Conference Offensive Player of the Year Zach Schreck and second team all-conference middie Connor Cunningham both also departed.
On defense, the losses are less heavy. Two key players stick out in long-stick middie (LSM) Ryan Totin and short-stick middie (SSM) Steve Danyluk. Totin and Danyluk both ranked in the top-four on the team in both groundballs and caused turnovers.
Red Hawks Returners
Last season Montclair State did score 12.12 goals-per-game and gave up 8.78 goals-per-game. Time will tell if they can match those numbers again.
Protecting against the Sea Gulls’ top offense will be a defense that returns most of its players from a season ago. Foremost, senior defender Ryan Young returns with significant hardware as the Skyline Player of the Year and as a USILA Second Team All-American.
Senior goalkeeper Lucas Jones returns after tallying 17 starts a season ago. Jones posted a 8.88 GAA and 151 saves.
Despite the many losses on the offensive end, two key goal-scorers stand out to try and keep production flying for the Red Hawks. Senior attackers Don Finn and Brady Wulster combine to return 110 points from a season ago. They will be looked to in order to break down the Salisbury defense.
“We’re gonna know exactly who we are after the game. We’re a senior heavy team this year so the goal is to have composure and execute all the things we’ve practiced over the last few weeks,” Montclair State head coach Michael Schambach said.
Sea Gulls Consistency
One strong point for the Gulls is their consistency down field. In 2016, Salisbury posted an 89 clearance rate. So far in 2017, the Sea Gulls have topped that mark going 38-for-38 through the first two matches.
“We figured out the clearing last year. We kind of have it down to science. It’s kind of bang-bang-bang, and we’re out in four or five passes,” senior defender Aaron Leeds said.
This will be a tough act for MSU to stop. If they cannot, the Red Hawks will have to try to outscore one of the top offenses in the nation. So far, the Sea Gulls have only let in five goals per game. Senior goalkeeper Colin Reymann has been solid between the pipes with a 5.33 GAA. He posted a 6.42 GAA last season.
At the ‘X’
The most anticipated battle on the field Saturday afternoon at the ‘X.’ As previously mentioned, Montclair State controlled the face-off contest in the 2016 meeting.
MSU senior face-off specialist Blase Mantineo returns after receiving USILA All-American Honorable Mention a season ago. Mantineo led the Red Hawks in groundballs (133) alongside his strong performances at the ‘X’ where he posted a 70.8 percent success rate on 421 chances.
“It starts with our face-offs. We know it’s gonna be a tough match-up. That’s what we feel like is one of the big keys to the game, to see what we can do at the face-off ‘X,” Coach Schambach said.
Mantineo will collide with SU senior face-off specialist Duncan Campbell who looks to improve on last year’s performance vs. MSU. Campbell is 24-of-30 (80 percent) so far this season. The Sea Gull posted a 62 percent mark in 2016.
Salisbury will also rotate in sophomore middie T.J. Logue for some of the restarts. Logue is 10-for-15 so far this season and was crucial for the Gulls in the NCAA Tournament while Campbell was out.
The largest difference-makers in this crucial battle may just be the wingers in play. SU LSM’s Andrew Ternahan and Cory Berry are becoming one of the top duos in the area this season.
The Sea Gulls’ high-powered offense is back this season and continues to produce in 2017. Kalama has opened his account with seven goals this season. His cohort Blondino has had similar results, posting four goals and five assists.
Despite the early successes, Salisbury did have their problems last Saturday vs. Lynchburg scoring only nine goals compared to the 16-per-game that they averaged a season ago.
“We didn’t play the way that we’re capable of playing. We didn’t have good spacing inside which kind of limited what we were able to do inside,” Kalama said.
Two bright spots have emerged for Salisbury in the meantime. On the first offensive middie line, sophomore Corey Gwin looks to produce more this weekend after scoring three times alongside an assist to start the season.
Second line attacker and freshman Josh Melton has also shined with three goals and four assists in his first two matches as a Sea Gull.
“Josh had a big time goal coming out of the box, stuck it up into the top shelf (vs. Lynchburg.) He had a nice assist, thought he should have had a few assists. He made a couple other good plays,” Coach Berkman said.
Coach Schambach sees the value that Salisbury brings with their depth on offense.
“Part of Salisbury’s success has really been that they have two really balanced offensive midfield lines. When you can get goals from that second line, it takes a lot of pressure off your first line guys,” Coach Schambach said.
For more information on the season ahead for Salisbury, check out our full Salisbury men’s lacrosse preview.