The 2020 season began like many others for Salisbury men’s lacrosse.
With over a dozen seniors and talent at every position, the team looked primed for another deep postseason run.
Like spring programs across the country, the team was not able to finish its quest for the national championship. On March 12, Salisbury University canceled the remainder of the 2019-20 athletic season in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Sea Gulls stayed unbeaten through their abbreviated seven-game season, averaging more than 19 goals per game and holding opponents to around six goals per game.
Head coach Jim Berkman said this team was a lot like other championship teams he has coached in its ability to perform well in all phases of the game.
“We were gonna score a boatload of goals. We had that ability,” Berkman said. “And we showed we could shut people down … I think everybody in the camp thought we had all the makings of a championship team.”
Junior attacker Cross Ferrara led the attack with 26 goals. Senior attacker Josh Melton led the team in points with 33, coming from 15 goals and 18 assists.
Melton, a member of the 2017 national champion Sea Gulls, said there was a different feeling surrounding the team this season.
“We had a good group of guys who had been to a national championship before and who’ve made it deep in the playoffs and knew what it felt like to lose,” Melton said. “I think we were on our way to taking the step to being a great Salisbury team.”
The SU defense also performed very well thanks to a strong group of returners and an emerging star between the pipes.
Senior Drew Borkowicz and juniors Brad Apgar and Noah Kness anchored the back end. Senior keeper T.J. Ellis boasted a 6.23 GAA and a .551 save percentage.
Despite only playing seven games, there were some big moments for the 2020 Gulls. Two big wins over Gettysburg College and the University of Lynchburg and a come-from-behind victory over Stevens Institute of Technology headlined the campaign.
In what would be the final game of the season, the Gulls bested the Rhodes College Lynx 22-5. Melton said the players had an idea the season may be cut short leading up to the game but tried to stay focused on the task at hand.
“We definitely had a feeling that something weird was going on, but we all made it a point that no matter what happened, we were gonna go out there and play like it’s our last game out there,” Melton said. “Unfortunately, it was.”
Now, the program faces new challenges.
The athletes, much like other Salisbury students, must make the jump to online learning. But they also have to establish regular workout schedules, healthy eating habits and regular routines without the structure that being on campus provides.
Berkman stressed the importance of the athletes getting into a regular pattern while at home.
“The biggest thing we try to impress with our guys is they have to get on some kind of routine,” Berkman said. “Trying to get them to get up early, to work out the same time every day, study at same times every day, because if you get in a routine, you have a much better chance at success.”
While many students live somewhat close to campus, there are others who have to travel a long way home.
Melton, who lives in Colorado, said adjusting to the online environment has been one of the most difficult adjustments to make.
“It’s definitely been tough,” Melton said. “Being away from classes, especially as far away as I am … It’s tough, but I’m just trying to make the best of it.”
Recruiting could also become more complicated moving forward if tournaments and prospect camps are postponed or cancelled.
Berkman said having tournaments moved to the fall could have an impact on how teams go about their fall ball practices.
“We’ve already canceled … all summer programs, so we won’t have our prospect camp,” Berkman said. “If all these tournaments get pushed into a fall schedule, we might have to change the way we do fall ball and only do those practices during the week or something like that.”
Another factor at play is the waiver granted to spring athletes by the NCAA for an additional semester of eligibility. With the amount of talent on the Salisbury roster, many of the seniors who were going to graduate plan to return.
This creates a problem for the future. Typically, teams bring in a first-year class that is two to three players larger than the graduating senior class.
With seniors returning for an additional season, Berkman says rosters are inevitably going to be larger.
“We were supposed to graduate 15 guys,” Berkman said. “Now, in reality, we’re only going to graduate maybe four or five, and we’re bringing in 18.”
“There’s gotta be some concessions, not just for one year, but for a few years. It becomes more of a four-year thing where the rosters are bigger, and you can’t avoid it.”
By NICK LEWIS
Featured photo: Brad Boardman image.