(This article originally and erroneously stated Salisbury had just two National Championships and was vying for its third.)
Salisbury is looking not only to repeat as National Champions this weekend in Greenville, SC, but to become the first and only program to claim five DII titles. At present, Salisbury has four, and Middlebury, UC San Diego and Radford all have two championships to their names.
Standing in the Sharks’ way is and old Mid-Atlantic rival, James Madison. The Dukes are making their first appearance in the Final Four. Last spring, in Salisbury’s lead-up to the postseason, the Sharks beat JMU in a friendly.
Like Salisbury, James Madison is undefeated this fall. Unlike the Dukes, though, the Sharks haven’t lost a game since falling to Lindenwood in the 2012 National Championship Game. Before that, they hadn’t lost since the 2011 Final Four, where they were knocked out by Middlebury.
That much success can be dangerous, but the Sharks actively work to root out complacency.
“Our alumni support, those guys, every time they run into our current players or message them on Facebook or send them a text, the alumni are always riding them, saying everything has to be worked for,” said Salisbury coach Bill Creese.
“We have two set practices a week, but then they have two practices that are essentially captain run that are just working out at a local cross-fit gym. The leadership helps with the complacency. If you’ve got [Nick] Kuhl and [Nick Capobianco], who have been around a while, and they’re constantly doing it, it helps.”
Kuhl, a three-time RUGBYMag DII All American and Salisbury’s flyhalf, and Capobianco lead a very senior-laden team that returns all but four starters from the spring’s National Championship run. They’re two of about a dozen who will be making their third Final Four appearance this weekend.
“They all came in together, or the year after. Nick Kuhl and Nick [Capobianco] and those guys came in together, and the next class came immediately after, and all those guys have been together for this run,” Creese said.
Salisbury likes to kick and run. Kuhl has a capable boot, and guys like Capobianco, and his little brother John, are capable chasers. The Sharks also like to challenge teams to spread their defense. They’re expecting James Madison to do the same.
“They’re similar to us. Their 10 is pretty good. He’s actually kind of local, in this area, some of the guys on the team know him,” said Kuhl. “He’s got a good foot and can kind of put it wherever he wants to. They just like to run a lot, kind of like we do. I don’t expect to see a bunch of crashing. I expect to see a wide open game.”
The width of the contest might be challenged by the weather, as rain is expected all weekend. Watch the match live here.