Salisbury men's lacrosse coach Jim Berkman has set a high standard during his 31 years at the helm.
Players come and go, but the goal is always the same: competing for a national championship during Memorial Day weekend.
The seniors on this year's team earned a spot in the championship game in each of their first three years, an impressive feat even for a program that has already established itself as the model in Division III college lacrosse. Entering this year's NCAA Division III Tournament, which began May 7, the Sea Gulls were considered one of the favorites to win the title.
"The bar is pretty high at Salisbury, considering the success we've had over the last 30 years," said Berkman, who was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2013. "The players know what's been done before them. They know what a good season is here as far as the eyes of the alumni. They know how hard they have to work to keep the legacy going."
The Sea Gulls won the title in 2016 and 2017 before losing to Wesleyan last year. Now, there is added motivation to go out on top. Throughout the season, the players have stayed focused on the game in front of them, and they entered the NCAA Tournament at 19-1.
"Our end goal is always to get to the national championship and hopefully end up winning it," senior faceoff specialist Brett Malamphy (Arundel) said.
Malamphy transferred from UMBC after two seasons and has been a key contributor for the Sea Gulls, winning 309 of 419 (73.7 percent) of his draws during the regular season this year. He has been named to the Division III Team of the Week by the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association three times this season.
"As a group, we always know the faceoffs set the tone," Malamphy said. "Once we get the ball on offense, we can get into a groove."
Entering this year's NCAA Tournament, Salisbury had scored 337 goals and allowed just 137. The Sea Gulls have six players -- seniors Corey Gwin (Stephen Decatur), Zach Pompea, Tyler Snyder (Mount Saint Joseph), juniors Josh Melton and Pierre Armstrong and sophomore Cross Ferrara -- with 50 or more points.
Junior goalie Brandon Warren (Calvert Hall) went 15-1 and allowed just 7.2 goals per game.
"He's developed as a player and is having a pretty good career," Berkman said.
While this year's group of players tries to reach new heights, Berkman is simply adding to his legacy.
He is the all-time winningest coach in NCAA men's lacrosse history and has won 12 national championships with Salisbury. He broke the NCAA mark for all-time coaching victories in the 2008 NCAA Tournament with a win against Ohio Wesleyan University, surpassing the former mark of 326 wins held by U.S. Military Academy coach Jack Emmer.
In 2017, Berkman led the Sea Gulls to back-to-back titles for the first time since 2011-2012 with a 15-7 win against the Rochester Institute of Technology at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. It was the 12th national championship for Berkman since his arrival at Salisbury in 1989.
Berkman was also the first NCAA lacrosse coach to record 500 wins. While the game of lacrosse has changed throughout the years, the high standards of the Salisbury lacrosse program have stayed the same.
"That tradition is definitely a driving factor and motivator here," Berkman said.
The Sea Gulls avenged their only loss of the season to York College by knocking off the Spartans in the Capital Athletic Conference championship, 13-7, May 4. Warren had 16 saves and Ferrara finished with three goals, leading the way for Salisbury to claim its 22nd conference title and fifth in six seasons.
With the win, the Sea Gulls earned a first-round bye and entered the national tourney as the No. 2 seed behind Tufts. The field has gotten stronger throughout the years.
"There is just good players everywhere and there is a lot of them," Berkman said. "Every part of the country you go to, there's a lot of talent. With the top eight or nine Division III teams, I don't think a lot of Division I teams would want to play them at this point of the season."
Berkman and his assistant coaches have been effective at tapping into the growing talent pool.
The Sea Gulls have players from 15 states, including California, Illinois, Michigan, Colorado and Ohio. Berkman and his staff will visit at least 30 camps across the country during the summer to scout players.
"I'm going to be at the Denver Showcase in the second week of June," Berkman said. "It's not like we don't scan the country. We've had kids from all over the U.S. that have played here, especially in the last 10 or 12 years. They've come here and had great careers at Salisbury."
Throughout his career at Salisbury, Berkman has coached 11 National Players of the Year. He has also coached 220 All-Americans, including a school-record 12 All-Americans in 2012.
For now, though, the focus is on bringing home another national championship to the Eastern Shore school. The coaches and players understand the unique opportunity in front of them.
"This senior class has an opportunity to make it to four national championship games, if we can get there," Berkman said. "That's kind of unheard of at any level."
Photo Credits: Jim Malamphy
Issue 254: May 2019