The Spring 2021 season ended with the fall of a lacrosse giant.
With 18 seconds remaining in the 2021 National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III National Championship game, Salisbury University men’s lacrosse held a 14-13 lead over top-seeded Rochester Institute of Technology to put yet another national title within reach.
Then heartbreak struck.
An interference was called against the Sea Gulls to return possession to the RIT Tigers, culminating in a game-tying score by RIT with 12 seconds left in regulation. SU’s national championship aspirations were then sunk by a Tigers goal with 2:26 remaining in the second overtime period to vanquish the Sea Gulls back to the Eastern Shore.
One of the nation’s most decorated lacrosse programs across all three NCAA Divisions, SU seeks to extend its streak of 31 consecutive appearances in the national postseason tournament, hoping to collect its 13th overall championship.
Having led SU to its 12 national titles since 1989, men’s lacrosse Head Coach Jim Berkman said the Sea Gulls must use the 2021 national championship loss as motivation this season.
“Like every year, dating back to our first championship in 1994, all the players, the program [and] the coaches believe we’re winning [the national championship] this year,” Berkman said. “Everyone believes that we have a legitimate chance.”
In addition to having a “good nucleus” of starters, SU’s offense remains the program’s strength, led by fifth-year returner and reigning National Player of the Year attacker Cross Ferrara.
Ferrara, who capitalized on the effects of COVID-19 by accepting an extra year of eligibility, will join several other upperclassmen co-stars to guide the Sea Gulls’ offense in 2022.
“We have some of the best offensive players to ever play at Salisbury and in the country,” Berkman said. “It’s a physically imposing group of players that [isn’t seen] at Division III.”
The 2021 National Midfielder of the Year senior Jarrett Bromwell will headline the Sea Gulls’ dense midfield depth chart alongside sophomore Jack Dowd and junior Luke Nestor.
Bromwell’s 21 goals over a five-game stretch tied the NCAA Division III Tournament scoring record during last year’s postseason campaign.
SU’s defensive unit was forced to reshape following the departures of several key starters.
Preseason All-American and five-year starter Drew Borkowicz will anchor SU’s defense as a “glue guy” while the team integrates new starters into its defensive lineup.
Berkman is encouraged by the combination of Borkowicz with “one of the most imposing physical figures in all of lacrosse” in senior Thomas Ballard, who stands 6 feet 7 inches tall, to maintain SU’s defensive efficiency.
Uncertainty remains in the Sea Gulls’ hunt for a concrete starting goalie, with internal competition between sophomores Matty Back and Z.J. Shahin, among others.
While Back has “had moments,” including a 2-0 starting record in 2021, Berkman said the competition will remain open into the spring.
Berkman, the all-time winningest coach in NCAA men’s lacrosse history, said the program is dedicated to a “pursuit of improvement.”
“If [a player] is not doing all the extra work outside of practice, then [he is] the exception,” Berkman said. “[Success] comes from seeing other players who went from being a good player to being a great player.”
“That’s what we do at Salisbury, and I think that’s a big part of who we are.”
By JAKOB TODD
Featured image courtesy of Brad Boardman.