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May 26, 2012

 

Dragons reloaded & ready

It’s Cortland vs. Salisbury in title game clash of unbeatens

LacrosseBob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland men’s lacrosse coach Steve Beville speaks with his team following their national semifinal win against Tufts University last Sunday at the Stadium Complex.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

The pre-season thought of mind was graduation had taken too much of a toll.
Without the two-time national midfielder of the year, without a couple of All-America defensemen, with a 35-goal scorer on attack to replace, this might not be your typical men’s lacrosse season where SUNY Cortland is considered among the best programs in the nation.
Yes, the campaign of 2012 for these Red Dragons and Coach Steve Beville was going to be one of those dreaded “rebuilding seasons.”
“We didn’t approve of that title coming into the season. None of the seniors did,” said returning attackman Mike Tota, that statement coming after last Sunday’s dramatic 12-10 come-from-behind post-season victory over Tufts University that kept the Red Dragons undefeated and one win away from a national title.
This Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. in the Massachusetts hamlet of Foxborough, on the Gillette Stadium turf the New England Patriots of the NFL call home, No. 2 ranked Cortland (21-0) and No. 1 ranked Salisbury (22-0) will clash in an anticipated showdown of undefeated teams in the NCAA Division III title game.
“We thought we had a lot of talent coming back,” insisted Tota, the team captain out of Webster Schroeder High School near Rochester who brought a large dose of confidence into his final season. “At Cortland we don’t rebuild, we reload. We’ve got guys who are stepping in every year who have been either sitting on the bench for a year or freshmen who come in from high school who can contribute right away. We knew we were going to compete for a national title no matter what.”
Tota and fellow senior attackman Greg Wright have done their part, for sure. Tota leads the team with 43 goals and 30 assists, while Wright has pumped in 36 goals to go along with 33 assists. Cortland had no trouble replacing departed Jay DiStefano, last year’s team scoring leader, as sophomore Cody Consul has stepped up with 36 goals and 22 assists.
While All-America Chris DeLuca went from being the top Division III midfielder last year to the Cortland coaching staff, a midfield unit labeled inexperienced has grown up this season. Quick-footed sophomore Joe Slavik is the fourth leading Cortland scorer with 27 goals and 15 assists, while senior Zack Mulvaney has been steady with 19 goals and 29 assists. And Coach Beville has used Nick Jarvis to gobble up faceoffs at a DeLuca-like rate, the 6-foot-2 and 210-pounder out of Onondaga Central with a 196-of-346 success rate at the x for the Red Dragons.
Sophomore Brian Winterfeldt was the only starter back on close defense, but junior C.J. Nye out of Marcellus and Massachusetts native Craig Sullivan have certainly helped to overcome the losses of All-Americans Justin Schneidman and Shane Crossett.
The defense is also helped out by the fact that senior Jack Kennedy out of West Genesee and junior Sean Davern out of Rochester’s Irondequoit High could be the best two long-stick defensive midfielders in the country, that speedy sophomore Doug Meehan has also been a defensive force at middie.
Junior goalie Mike Kaminski has also had a huge season. A starter as a freshman, and a back-up for a good chunk of last year, the 6-foot-4 patroller of the crease has allowed just over five goals per game with a .663 save percentage while starting all 21 games. He entered the playoffs ranked second nationally in save percentage.
So Cortland has, indeed, reloaded while making it to at least the quarterfinal round of the NCAAs for the 11th consecutive season.
“We graduated that fantastic senior class last year, 14 seniors, so we didn’t know what to expect from this group,” said Coach Beville. “We knew we’d have good leadership from our seniors, Tota and Wright and on down, but defensively we were just so inexperienced and midfield-wise some new kids had to step up. But hey, we’re going to Foxborough and that is always a goal one way or the other no matter who we lose as players.”
Cortland played in four consecutive title games from 2006-09, facing Salisbury on three of those occasions. After upsetting the three-time defending champions 13-12 on Mike Felice’s overtime goal in 2006, capping a dream season for interim head coach Rich Barnes, Cortland lost to Salisbury 15-9 and 19-13 in the next two title contests.
Beville earned his first national title at Gillette Stadium in 2009, when Cortland topped Gettysburg 9-7. The past two tournaments have been NCAA disappointments, losing 10-9 to eventual champion Tufts in the 2010 semifinals and then being beaten by the same Jumbos by the same 10-9 margin in the quarterfinals last season.
That’s why last week’s dismissal of Tufts felt so sweet for Cortland, setting up a rematch against a renown Salisbury program that has nine national championship trophies on display back in Maryland — including one from last year’s 19-7 title game romp past Tufts.
In his 24th season at Salisbury, head coach Jim Berkman has 401 victories against just 37 losses. The Watertown native and 1982 St. Lawrence graduate also spent a season at SUNY Potsdam, making his 410-42 overall record the best among all collegiate lacrosse coaches.
The Sea Gulls have out-scored opponents 386-105 this season behind a trio of high-scoring seniors. Attackman Matt Cannone has 61 goals and 64 assists, midfielder Sam Bradman 65 goals and 27 assists, and attackman Erik Krum 66 goals and 23 assists.
That will be the challenge for Cortland, to subdue that Salisbury scoring prowess and send the seniors out with a second national title — having been through this national title game experience as wide-eyed freshmen.
Or as middie Mulvaney said of this return visit to Gillette Stadium: “We started there, we finished there, hopefully the story completes itself.”

 

 

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