The Mercer men’s lacrosse team kicked off their 2016 season over the weekend against Towson. Although the Bears lost the hard-fought match, the game proved to be very instructive, showing the team what they will need to work on in order to meet future success.
“Opening the season against a top 15 team in the country is a great challenge,” said Head Coach Kyle Hannan. “The Towson game gave us 60 minutes together and the opportunity to evaluate where we are individually and as a team. Playing Towson will make us a much stronger team in the long run.”
Indeed, the lacrosse team will face other tough competitors throughout their season. Most notably, the Bears will compete against Duke (ranked 3rd nationally), Bellarmine (ranked among the top 20 programs in the nation) and Air Force. Their 13-game season will be geographically diverse as well, as they will play schools from 10 different states.
Before moving into the Southern Conference competition, the team will face four more out-of-conference teams.
Junior attackman Chris Rahill welcomes the challenge.
“We want to play good teams before heading into conference so that we can test ourselves,” said Rahill. “We’ll be ready when we head into conference play.”
Hannan, now in his fourth year of coaching the Bears, is happy with the team’s tough schedule.
“We always want to challenge the team on game day,” Hannan said. “Our schedule includes nationally recognized out-of-conference opponents, which prepares us for the second half of the season against our Southern Conference rivals. Knowing that we will face a talented team every week helps keep the team focused and competing at a high level.”
The men’s lacrosse team had a strong showing in their 2014 and 2015 seasons. Respectively, they came away with first and second place finishes in the Southern Conference regular season. Mercer is returning All-Southern Conference selections in Chris Baxa, Colin Massa, and Mike Nugent.
The team also has quite a few young players. Coach Hannan added 15 freshmen to the roster for the 2016 season, but he views this as a strength rather than a weakness.
“[Our] program is still relatively young. That being said, I feel like we are still searching for our true identity. We have won a few significant games over the past couple seasons, but we have also lost meaningful games in our conference final four. It is time for this team to take ownership and establish themselves as a championship level squad,” Hannan said. “I truly believe we are on a good path.”
Rahill agrees that despite having a young squad, the team has the athleticism and wherewithal to pull off a championship.
“We have a good enough to team to win the championship this year,” said Rahill. “But we need to compete hard every day. We have to be able to start strong and stay strong throughout all of our matches.”
Hannan said that his goals for the season are to maintain a 3.2 overall team GPA, have a positive influence in the Mercer community and win the Southern Conference Championship.
“All teams face adversity, some much more than others,” he said. “I am very proud of this team for the way they have handled themselves through difficult times. When a team is challenged, they can either rise or fall. This group of young men have become stronger through adversity and will prove to be winners academically, socially and athletically.”