Season Preview: With 2013 set to begin, Sea Gulls look to get defensive

SALISBURY, Md. – Fresh off of its second-consecutive national championship, the Salisbury University men's lacrosse team enters 2013 with a mix of returning players and new faces ready for the opening face-off of the upcoming season. The 2012 season brought the Sea Gulls their 10th national championship and 17th Capital Athletic Conference championship, and the Gulls, who are currently riding a 30-game winning streak, will look to add to those totals during this season.

The team graduated 18 seniors, including all three starting attackmen, in 2012 but brings back a solid core of returning players, including both face-off specialists and the majority of last season's starting defense, while adding an abundance of new talent in each area of the field.

"Defensively, I think we played pretty strong in the fall," said Head Coach Jim Berkman, the all-time winningest coach in NCAA men's lacrosse history with 411 wins. "We are pretty solid there with a pretty veteran team. We got great goalie play, and we are really good at the "X". This team is a pretty good team. This team could do a lot of things."

ATTACK

Sea Gulls fans will see an abundance of new faces on attack for Salisbury in 2013, after the team graduated six seniors, including all three starters on attack from 2012.

The team expects to see junior Rhett DePol and seniors Stephen Norris and Evan Hammersly at the starting attack line this year.

"I definitely liked our attack and the development of it over the fall," Berkman said. "It got a lot better."

DePol appeared in 20 games for Salisbury last season, scoring nine goals with eight assists (17 points). He returns this year, looking for more minutes and expecting to make an impact on the Sea Gulls' offense.

After sitting out for a year, Hammersly rejoins Salisbury and should have an impact on attack. He played in 10 games for the Sea Gulls in 2011 with two points (one goal and one assist).

Norris transferred to SU this season, after playing for Towson University from 2009-11. The Leonardtown, Md., native netted seven goals and one assist in 2011 for the Tigers.

"Stephen Norris definitely knows how to finish the ball on the inside," Berkman said. "He has really good hands."

Sophomore Wade Korvin looks to get minutes throughout the season. Korvin joins the Sea Gulls as a transfer from Bryant University.

MIDFIELD

With the departure of 2012 National Player and Midfielder of the Year Sam Bradman, Salisbury will turn to senior Ryan Clarke to lead the offensive midfield, this season. Clarke, a 2012 first-team All-American, was second on the team with 29 assists and fourth on the team with 35 goals and 64 points, and he is set to return to form for the Sea Gulls in 2013.

Fellow senior, Eric Kluge, is set to break out this season and will begin the year on the first line with Clarke. Kluge is a big, strong and fast player that Berkman described as dynamic and who had an outstanding fall.

A number of players are in the mix for the third starting spot in the midfield and the first two spots on the second line, including junior Brandon Kendrick and sophomore James Burton. Burton saw time in 10 games last season, while scoring two goals.

Kendrick will return after missing last season with a knee injury. He transferred from the Community College of Baltimore County - Essex, where he played two seasons, in which, he combined for 110 points, 48 goals and 62 assists.

Junior Greg Korvin and sophomores Kyle Goss and Mike Hanna all return to Salisbury and expect to see good playing time during the season. All three players saw action last season, as Korvin (12 games) scored one goal with three assists, Goss (11 games) scored three goals and Hanna (nine games) scored one goal with one assist.

Freshmen Thomas Cirillo and Davis Anderson will also push for minutes coming into the season.

Another player who is returning to the Sea Gulls in 2013 is sophomore Alex Nieves.  Nieves played for Salisbury in 2010, a season in which he scored four goals and registered six assists, before being diagnosed with leukemia before the 2011 season. After sitting out the past two seasons, he returns to the Sea Gulls for this year.

"Alex has made a great recovery, and it is just amazing that he is even on the field," said Berkman. "It definitely brings an inspiration to everyone when they see him."

FACE-OFFS

Senior Tyler Granelli, one of the Gulls' team captains, returns to man the "X" again after a 2012 in which he was named a first-team All-American and the National Face-Off Specialist of the Year. Granelli boasted a .633 face-off percentage, while picking up a team-leading 164 ground balls.

Junior Chris Biank also returns to Salisbury after playing in 19 games in 2012, including four starts in the place of an injured Granelli. He won .701 percent of his face-offs (129-184) and scored one goal with one assist for two points.

"We feel excited to have two really capable, top-notch face-off guys," Berkman said of his two returners.

Freshman Preston Dabbs will also see time as a face-off man for the Gulls in 2013.

DEFENSE

The defense looks to be one of Salisbury's strongest lines this season, as the team returns a lot of the key contributors from last season's No. 2-ranked scoring defense with five goals per game.

"Defensively, we feel like we have a very strong unit led by Zeke Smith, a returning All-American," Berkman said. "He was a full-time starter last year, and played a big role down the stretch."

Smith, a junior who started 22 of 23 games in 2012, led the team with 50 caused turnovers and picked up 63 ground balls. He registered one assist, as well.

Junior Danny Sherr and sophomore Knute Kraus will join Smith on the starting defense after playing big roles in 2012. Both players have worked hard of the offseason and have come back stronger and better for 2013. Sherr made 12 starts with 11 caused turnovers and 20 ground ball pick-ups, while Kraus caused nine turnovers and picked up 18 ground balls.

New to the SU defense this season is junior Josh Martin, who transferred to Salisbury after spending two years playing for Onondaga Community College.

"He is very athletic, very fast," Berkman said of Martin, who provides valuable depth to the defense and will look to get a lot of minutes during the season. "He is a good, sound defenseman."

Senior captain Brett Baer will lead the long-stick midfielders this season after playing all 23 games at the position for the Sea Gulls in 2012. He picked up 31 ground balls and caused 20 turnovers last season, along with scoring one goal and registering one assist. Sophomores Austin Kemp and Marty Wallace will join Baer to solidify the long-stick midfield.

Junior Tim Stone made a big impression during the fall to become the frontrunner of the short-stick defenders. Berkman said that Stone "has definitely stepped up to be the number-one guy; he showed that in the fall with great leadership." Stone was named another one of the Gulls' captains.

Sophomore Adam Stork, the third defensive midfielder from 2012, who backed up Dean Rossi and Parker Dickerson, will join Stone in the short-stick defense. He played in 14 games, last season.

Dabbs will see time at short-stick defense, as well.

GOALIE

Junior goalkeeper Alex Taylor returns as the Sea Gulls' starter in the cage for 2013 after being named an honorable mention All-American last season. Taylor ranked second in the country in goals allowed per game (4.92) and save percentage (.660), while playing over 1,040 minutes and recording all 23 of the Gulls' victories last year.

"Alex had a great season last year, and he played lights out this fall," Berkman said. "He is a step or two better than he was last year. We feel like we have a potential first-team All-American goalie in the cage."

Fellow junior Mitch Meredith and sophomore Connor Anderson both return to Salisbury, as well. Meredith will back up Taylor after playing over 200 minutes in the cage with a .630 save percentage in 2012.

Anderson will take the No. 3 spot on the depth chart. Last season, he played 50 minutes in the goal and made six saves.

"Connor had a much improved season, too," Berkman said. "He played really well in the fall."

SCHEDULE

The Sea Gulls begin their season on Sunday, Feb. 10, at Sea Gull Stadium against Greensboro College; the beginning of a schedule loaded with competition.

"Those tough out-of-conference games are one right after another in the first seven or eight games of the season," Berkman said.

The Sea Gulls play six teams that are ranked in Face-Off Yearbook's Preseason Top 20 poll, including No. 1 Stevenson University, No. 15 Gettysburg College and No. 16 Ohio Wesleyan University, at Sea Gull Stadium, and No. 7 Lynchburg College, No. 11 Roanoke College and No. 17 Washington College, on the road.

The team's Capital Athletic Conference schedule begins on March 13 with a home game against York (Pa.) College.

The postseason begins on April 24 with the first round of the CAC tournament, and the conference championship game will be played on May 4.

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