Fall 2017 marks the first official phase in the development of Mercer County Community College’s men’s lacrosse program. Head Coach Robert Siris, formerly boys lacrosse head coach at Hopewell Valley High School, is tasked with building the program as he makes the transition from high school to collegiate level head coach.
Siris told The VOICE: “It was a tough decision for me to leave Hopewell but I have really strong connections with people in central Jersey, and I think this is a great opportunity.”
The program is currently in its recruitment phase. Siris and Athletic Director John Simone’s primary goal for fall of 2017 is establishing a core of players, consisting of prospects enrolled at Mercer, high school prospects from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, as well as transfers from Division 1 programs across the country.
Siris says: “I’ve been in contact with about 60 recruits from all around New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the shore area so the recruiting process has gone really well and I think there’s a strong interest in playing lacrosse around Mercer County.”
He added, “It seems like our roster for next year might be filled over the next month or so.”
One of the first recruits is former Hightstown High School lacrosse and football player, and Delaware Valley transfer, Tommy Nicola. After suffering a shoulder injury, he is making the transition from football at Delaware Valley to men’s lacrosse at Mercer.
Nicola says, “We got a bunch of athletes, were just looking to move forward and create a program like the soccer team and baseball team that we already have here….We just want to build a winning program.”
The program is scheduled to transition into organized practices in the spring, and by next fall is expected to be playing intramural games against other schools. Spring of 2019 will mark the program’s first official season as a Varsity NJCAA men’s lacrosse team and will compete in Division 3 against other junior college programs in the region.
Athletic Director John Simone says “I would hope by spring of ‘19 we have a roster of 25 students playing lacrosse here on our turf field…I don’t know how competitive we’ll be early on. It will take time to build a team, and all those things, so it could take two years just to get more competitive”
According to Simone a turf field devoted to lacrosse just finished seeding and will be ready by the spring. Some old space has been cleared out and is being renovated to serve as a locker room for the team.
A key area of concern with the new program is that it will create an imbalance between men’s and women’s teams at Mercer. Under Title IX–the landmark federal civil right that prohibits sex discrimination in education –every college is required to have an even number of men’s and women’s athletic programs. The addition of the men’s lacrosse team will put the men’s programs one above the women’s. Under the law, the college has a three-year window after the official induction of the program to address this imbalance.
Mercer President, Dr. Jianping Wang told The VOICE how the college plans to proceed.
“We’re taking two steps. One is we have to sort of wind down a program that is not very robust, and that happens to be a men’s team…It is one of those teams that is not very robust, not very attractive I guess” Wang said in reference to the men’s cross country team.
Another option would be to introduce another women’s team to balance the numbers. Suggestions have been made that a women’s lacrosse team may be added at some point. However, adding a women’s team would require planning and resources that the college is not currently prepared to commit.
Dr. Wang responded to this option saying: “You have to build one team at a time. It’s not easy to build even one team. To concurrently build two teams is just not feasible.” Wang continued “You have to hire a coach. You have to have a locker room. You have to buy the equipment. You have to have storage space. It’s a lot of logistics going there… Logistically speaking, nobody does that kind of thing unless you have Princeton money, then it’s not a problem.”