Updated: Feb 18, 2019
The 2019 season is underway for the Salisbury University men’s lacrosse team, and the expectations are elevated as always.
Along with expectations, confidence is at an all-time high for head coach Jim Berkman. Heading into his 31st season at SU, Berkman says he looks for his team to rely on “The Sea Gull Way” to launch themselves back into contention for a national championship.
The Sea Gulls are entering this season looking to win games with a bit of a different formula than in years prior. A strong defense has anchored the Sea Gulls to a combined 65-6 record over the last three seasons.
But after two key losses on the defensive side of the ball in Will Nowesnick and Kyle Tucker, the door is open for players to step up. Both players graduated after last season, with Tucker being drafted by the Chesapeake Bayhawks and Nowesnick drafted by the Ohio Machine of Major League Lacrosse.
The Sea Gulls not only lost two productive defenders who combined for a total of 26 turnovers last season — they also lost a couple of vocal leaders in the locker room. Tucker and Nowesnick set an example and were integral reasons as to why the team's defense has been so efficient in recent years.
With these defenders out the door, SU is left with a lack of experience on the defensive side of the ball.
“There’s some added pressure for sure,” said junior defender Drew Borkowicz. “But we’ve got some guys who had a good fall ball such as Noah [Kness] and [Brad] Apgar, so I think the defense is feeling pretty good as a unit heading in.”
Borkowicz is expected to play a larger role this season and become a leader. Aside from wanting to maintain a solid defense, the junior had some individual goals for himself heading into 2019.
“Well, obviously, we’re always trying to get back on top and be in contention for a championship,” Borkowicz said. “I’m also looking to improve off last season and possibly get my name in candidacy for All-American honors.”
Sophomore Brad Apgar is another one of the up-and-coming players on this Sea Gull defense.
Like Borkowicz, he was confident in the defense’s ability to sustain a high level of play despite losing its top two defenders. Apgar has set his focus this season on creating turnovers and winning groundballs.
At the collegiate level, losing players to graduation is a yearly occurrence, and while some years you lose above average talent, a team like SU is bred to continue the line of succession. Losing Tucker and Nowesnick is not something that changes the team’s mentality or its game plan.
“We’re still going to come out here and compete and be the same team we’ve always been,” Apgar said.
Oftentimes, with a program that has been as successful as the Sea Gulls have been, some of the newer players tend to come in with a sense that they will automatically be successful. Berkman knows there were many factors that go in to avoiding any overconfidence at SU.
“Once the new guys get here and get a chance to see the older guys work in person, I think it humbles them a little bit,” Berkman said.
He also feels that having a strong veteran presence and depth on the team keeps the underclassmen working hard, knowing that their opportunities are not guaranteed.
With a team that scored over 13 goals per game last season and only graduated one of its top scorers in midfielder Garrett Reynolds, this is a team that has offensive experience returning. However, the first two games of the season have left more to be desired.
“Well, we certainly were looking to put up more goals than we did during the beginning of last season, but that didn’t happen in the first game,” Berkman said. “Going forward, we’re hoping that scoring is not going to be a hassle for us.”
The Sea Gulls got off to a bit of a rough start last season, as they were 6-3 in their first nine games. This skid included a devastating nine-goal loss at No. 2 York College.
However, adjustments were made and the team rallied together to embark on a 14-game win streak. In spite of its impressive win streak, scoring goals was still a struggle at times for SU. The team failed to score 10 or more goals in eight of its 24 games last season.
It’s a unit that has to get better for the Sea Gulls to get back on top of the Division III lacrosse world.
Through its first two games, SU defeated Berry College at home 9-7 and grabbed a ranked matchup win on the road at No. 20 Lynchburg 11-9. Despite recent struggles, Berkman is confident that its offense will be able to get the job done.
SU has most of its core players returning on the offensive side of the ball, including senior Corey Gwin, sophomore Cross Ferrara and junior Josh Melton. Berkman believes that many of the key guys on offense played well during fall ball and look to be better than ever heading into the season.
Defensively, Berkman is looking for some of the younger guys to step up and play a bigger role in the 2019 season.
Sophomore Noah Kness is another young Gull that will join the likes of Apgar and Borkowicz. Expecting to see a large increase in playing time, Kness is already regarded to be the best one-on-one defender on the team.
It cannot go unstated the importance of the play of junior goalie Brandon Warren. Totaling 17 saves with a 70 percent save percentage in its season opener versus Berry, Warren is off to a very strong start.
Warren received second team All-CAC honors after an impressive sophomore season and is looking to be a reliable force in goal and improve on his career record of 18-2 as a starter.
With new youth stepping in on defense, Warren will be an anchor to a defense that looks to improve on being the second-best scoring defense in the CAC last season.
SU will be on the road traveling to face Widener University until its first big test of the season comes against No. 6 Gettysburg College. This early schedule will show just where SU is in comparison to last season, and is the prime test for building momentum ahead of its conference schedule.
A Sea Gull team that looks to make it to another national championship will have a tough schedule to prove its worth early on.
By TOMMY WEST
Featured photo: Defenders Brad Apgar and Drew Borkowicz double-up on a Berry attacker. (Emma Reider images).