ST. BONAVENTURE — Nearly two full calendar years to the date the school announced it would add the sport, men’s lacrosse finally makes its official Division I debut at St. Bonaventure this weekend.
On March 21, 2017, Bona athletic director Tim Kenney revealed the school would field a D-I men’s lacrosse team for the 2018-19 academic year. This Saturday, the Bonnies play their first-ever home game at the Marra Athletics Complex, hosting Detroit Mercy at 6 p.m.
Hired in July 2017, coach Randy Mearns has overseen most of the 718-day period between SBU’s initial announcement through Saturday’s home opener.
“VERY EXCITED. It's been a long time coming,” said Mearns, the former Canisius coach. “We've spent a lot of time with the recruiting process for a year, then we obviously matriculated everybody up on campus, we got to evolve within the process in the fall, a whole new coaching staff working together.
“We're all freshmen for the most part. We're really excited about the hard work and effort and the maturity that our young group put together in the fall. Then we challenged our guys over the winter time to come back, obviously, in shape because we had that Christmas vacation for four weeks. Then we hit the ground running, and it was very, very exciting. Everybody's so super enthusiastic … a lot of learning experiences that we've got to go through.”
Starting 0-3 with road losses to High Point, Saint Joseph’s and Manhattan in February, Bona still seeks its first victory, but each of its three games were progressively closer. It started with a 13-0 loss at High Point, ranked No. 12 in the latest Inside Lacrosse NCAA poll, on Feb. 2.
“Obviously not the result we're looking for,” Mearns said, “but our guys got to experience straight away what playing high-level Division I men's lacrosse looks like just in terms of the speed, the athleticism, the size and that was just a great experience for us.”
A week later, Bona lost 16-7 at Saint Joe’s.
“We played with much more confidence, we played with much more organization,” Mearns said, “less panic with these young freshmen, knowing the next play and although we lost, we felt good about the progress that we made.”
Bona then had its best chance at a win on Feb. 23, falling to Manhattan, 15-12.
“We were in that game all the way through, but again we had a few errors and mistakes that cost us some goals,” Mearns said. “But as frustrated as we were with the loss, Manhattan's a very good squad as well. We were able to take all that videotape and say, 'How do we continue to improve? How do we continue to — as freshmen — not panic with the ball or in certain situations.”
With 33 freshmen, two sophomores, two juniors and one senior, Mearns has an overwhelmingly green roster. But he doesn’t think the 0-3 start has hurt the morale of his young Bonnies.
“THEY KNEW this coming in,” he said. “This was going to be very, very hard.”
But the vision Mearns discussed with Kenney and university president Dennis DePerro hasn’t changed, Mearns said.
“We're talking about winning a national championship,” he said. “The kicker is that's not going to come on Day 1. Our guys coming in understood that and that was a big eye-opener when we played High Point.
“We got skunked, lost 13-0, Brett Dobson had a phenomenal game in the nets, it could have been a lot worse, but the takeaway from that was, 'OK, guys. You're all, relatively speaking, coming from high school, where you've been the best guy on your team, and guess what? That's the speed, that's the pace.’”
This will be one of just three chances to catch the Bonnies at home in their inaugural season, as Bona plays 10 of its 13 regular-season games on the road.
“We've just been battling here for the last week and a half, practicing very hard around spring break,” Mearns said, “so we've been able to get some double sessions in, and we're pretty amped.”
Detroit, SBU’s second MAAC opponent, brings a 3-2 record to Bona after a 19-9 loss at Air Force on Wednesday.
“They're going to be very good (and) very organized,” Mearns said. “Their seniors and juniors are going to play like seniors and juniors and this has been the process for us of having our young group on Saturday not play as freshmen. Play as sophomores and juniors. Although we've had only three games of experience, let's correct those little errors and if we correct them, then we lead to more confidence. Let's put a fight up against Detroit.”
(Salamanca Press sports editor Sam Wilson may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)