For a program that has produced ten national championships, an undefeated regular season and a number one ranking is not surprising for Salisbury University Men’s Lacrosse. This Saturday, the Sea Gulls begin conference tournament play in the next step on what is hoped to be a long post-season run. Head Coach Jim Berkman took some time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions in The Interview of the Week.
Pencek: With the constant high expectations of your program is there anything that surprised you about this season?
Berkman: There was some uncertainty about the young defense early in the season about their team defensive abilities. They’ve answered the bell. We’ve been extremely excited about the improvement of them and their ability to play great team defense. I thought that was going to be the key to having a successful season. At this point, I would say we’re ahead of the learning curve from where we thought we would be.
Pencek: Having coached all those national championship teams, are their common characteristics that you see in this year’s squad?
Berkman: One of things to win a national championship you have to have a kid at each position that is in that first team All-American, Player of the Year caliber. I think our two attackman (Nathan) Blondino and (Carson) Kalama are in that discussion. Obviously Tommy Cirillo is in that discussion and possibly a Player of the Year. Kyle Tucker has come out of nowhere to also be in that discussion. Although Colin Reymann is not in that discussion at this point because he missed the first ten games, his performance lately if he had those ten games like it probably would have put him in that discussion. I think we have great players who at every position that make everyone else around them better. I think that is putting us in position for a great run.
Pencek: With what this team has accomplished with a number one ranking, how are you able to keep them focused and not distracted with the attention and the accolades?
Berkman: Since 1994, every senior class has won a national championship. This group has been second twice and the final eight once. They feel that on their backs that they want to win a championship before they leave. They’ve been doing a great job with leadership throughout the year. In season and out of season, they have kept us focused every day to make sure our preparations and efforts were what it needed to be to be successful.
Pencek: What keeps you motivated after all these years at one school (28th season)?
Berkman: I think the biggest motivation for me is that every year is a new year. It’s a new team. It’s a new group of guys. Each group of guys has certain things that need to be accomplished and improvements that need to be made. I always get challenged by where some of those people are and where they need to be for us to be champions. The challenge of getting them to improve and push and prod them in a positive way to do the things that it takes. Kyle Tucker goes from third long stick as a freshman at 168 pounds to 194 pounds a potential first team All-American as a sophomore. The program and the coaches have done a great job of motivating him to get better. Will Nowesnick comes in at 169 pounds and 6’5″ as a freshman and as a sophomore we are talking about him being an All-American. Now he is 6’5″ 218 and he is a force out there. That motivates you to know you had some input in that kid’s development.
Pencek: What was the thing that created a passion for the sport of lacrosse for you?
Berkman: I don’t think it was just lacrosse. I was always a guy who just loved to play. Basketball was my first passion. I started in college for four years. I’ve always been a competitor. I like to compete every day. I am fortunate to be at a good school. We have a great school, a great product, and we’ve created a great tradition. We’ve a great lacrosse program and a great mix with the academic side that makes this a special place.