Photo courtesy of Suraj Kannan
About a dozen students congregated on Mercer’s Black Field. A few ragged white balls laid on the ground while some miniature pop-up soccer goals rested on the hill leading up to the newly-built football stadium.
Few had equipment. There was no structure — no drills. It was simply a group of guys running around, flinging a ball into a net.
It was the inception of the Mercer club lacrosse team.
“It’s kind of incredible to think about where the program is today compared to where we were when we first started,” said junior midfielder Suraj Kannan.
Kannan is currently a captain and has been on the team since day one. His freshman roommate Jaryd Kromsky together with Brian Stepanski started the program, and the first practices took place in the spring of 2014.
But, the team didn’t practice more seriously until the fall when it held its first scrimmage against Kennesaw State University.
“We used hand-me-down practice jerseys from the football team,” Kannan said.
The team started playing games during the spring of 2015 as a member of the Deep South Conference in the National College Lacrosse League (NCLL). Mercer lost all three of its first-year games.
But the losing streak ended at four. The team played a doubleheader Feb. 20 against Chattanooga and Marshall with only 10 players — no substitutes.
After losing 13-2 to the Mocs in the first game, Mercer walloped Marshall 14-4 in the second of the doubleheader to earn its first victory in program history.
“Honestly, it was a bit surreal,” said junior goalie Jeremy Smith. “I waited three years to have that first win, and I think we really needed it as a team. We all were a little disheartened after we had repeatedly gotten beat by these larger, well-established programs. And once we had that first win, we realized that we can actually compete in the league we are in.”
Smith said, unlike Mercer, many of the programs the team plays are schools that do not have a varsity team. Both he and Stepanski, the president of the team, said they liked club lacrosse because Division I athletics was too time consuming.
“An NCAA team practices six times a week; we only practice twice a week,” Stepanski said. “We are able to enjoy the sport and play what we all love without it consuming all of our time.”
The team boasts 15 members, some of whom had never played before joining. The program receives funding from the university, Stepanski said, although they will sell t-shirts for any additional money.
In order to recruit, Stepanski said that he sets up a table at Bear Fair each year.
“The student body is very interested in the team,” he said. “At the last game, the bleachers at Orange Field were full, and two of the fans watching the game have decided to come out for the team since they enjoyed watching the game so much.”
But he’s not picky when it comes to who can join the team.
“I started the club because I knew there were other players like me at this school, and we needed to come together for the love of the sport,” Stepanski said. “I also love seeing new players come out to practice and discovering how amazing the sport is.”
The team will play three more games this season, including a doubleheader Saturday, April 9 against Mississippi State and Memphis. Adding two more games against Dalton State and Furman — which were cancelled because of rain — is still in the works.
“I’d never even considered the thought of playing lacrosse in college, even at the club level, but when I was presented with the opportunity, I jumped at it,” Kannan said. “I’m proud to be a part of a team that I’ve helped build from the ground up. It’s an incredible feeling.”