By Anthony Caruso III
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 4/1/20
Ursinus men’s lacrosse coach Gary Mercadante said this year’s squad was successful on the field and off because of a strong camaraderie that began from its senior class.
“One of my seniors during the video chat, he said something along the lines that ‘It’s cool to care.’ I think those guys – along with last year’s seniors – but this year’s seniors more so, I think they created a culture, where it is cool to care,” said Mercadante.
“The guys care about each other and how hard they’re working. They care about how hard we compete and how our energy is all the time. They also care for each other a lot. That’s something I’ll care about this senior group and that’s going to be their legacy.”
The Ursinus legacy included a 7-0 start and a national ranking of No. 6 in Division III when the season was cancelled due to the national health concerns from the spread of COVID-19 last month. That 7-0 start came after last year’s team – picked to finish next-to-last in the Centennial Conference – won its first league title ever under Mercadante – a former Bears assistant who then was in his first year as head coach following a tenure as head coach at Delaware Valley University.
He gave answers to these questions in an exclusive interview wqith Phillylacrosse.com:
Q: What was your first thoughts when you heard that your season was going to come to an abrupt end?
GM: “I think there were a lot of emotions, especially for all the coaches and players. I think all the student-athletes and the coaches were in the same boat, as it was hard to believe that it was our new reality. We were shocked that something to that extent could happen. As coaches, I think we were prepared – for an example, last year, when we went to the NCAA Tournament – if you win, you move on, if you lose, you go home and the season is over. I think in those moments – even though it is though to lose – you’re prepared if that happens. A situation like this is a situation that nobody could have prepared for, as there is no script for this. We had to get through it together. We had to have a conversation with the team and be with each other, as we get through this together, like we do everything else.”
Q: Is there an emptiness in how the season just ended the way it did?
GM: “There certainly is for any team, not just us. For every team, there are a lot of emotions and there’s the feeling that you got robbed – especially for our seniors. They lost a huge piece of what you do. I think everybody processed that differently. Our goal was to just process that as best as possible, as a team, as we made sure that we were supporting all of our guys. Obviously, we learned shortly afterwards, that there would not be a return to the season. We’re taking it day-by-day. We’re going to get through this together.”
Q: After the team received the news, the team got together and did a 3-on-3 tournament. How did that come about?
GM: “That’s a game that we have actually played for a while now. That came from my assistant coach actually. We have decided after finding out in the morning at breakfast after we received the news from our Athletic Director, we were able to have one more practice, then we were letting our guys go home from there. We decided as a team that it was really important to get back on the field – and we talked about it with our guys – and that’s what they wanted to do. Our seniors wanted one more opportunity to be on Patterson Field as well as putting their helmet on. That’s what we did.
“We set it up where all of our seniors drafted four guys. Then, we played our 3-on-3 game. It’s on one goal, so we had four goals going on at once. It’s a round-robin tournament with helmets and gloves and us coaches also played. It was a lot of fun. On defense at all times, one player has to be in goal with everyone being able to play goalie at some point. We did that for approximately 2 hours. We had the music going, like we normally did in practice. It was just an opportunity for all of us to be together. We put so much into what we do as a program – and you hear a lot right now that lacrosse is the ‘medicine game’ – and that’s something that my assistant coach said to our guys in the huddle after we finished that practice/tournament. This game is really our medicine and we could tell how evident that was during that time. During that two hours, our emotions disappeared as we were out there having fun, like it was any other day – and I think it was something our guys needed.” Once that ended, the reality really set in that the season was over.”
Q: Are you allowed to stay in contact with your players following the abrupt end of the season?
GM: “We are allowed to stay in contact with them. We’ve been in touch with our guys constantly. On Friday, we had a video conference with our players – especially the seniors – and it’ll be one of many. We’re going to have one with each class. During our meeting with them, we want them to reflect on the season. We’re also learning from what we did, while also discussing ways that we’re going to move forward. We have also been in contact with them through a variety of ways – phone calls, text messages, and now video chats – which I think has been really great. To be able to get on one of those calls and be able to laugh together – again, we know that we’re in this together. We know that we’re going to come out stronger in the end.”
Q: This season, you had 11 seniors. Could you talk about your senior class?
GM: “I think our seniors were in a very unique situation. Coming off of last year’s season, they were a part of a team that accomplished something that we had never accomplished before. We had our best season in program history. I think for the senior class this year, their jobs were even harder. They were challenged with doing it again – and also doing it better. I think they did an incredible job with that. They were a cohesive unit in everything that they did, as they were on the same page. I think we had an outstanding group of leaders – not just one leader, but a group of leaders – who all met our standards and took our program standard to another level. I think that’s why our season was going the way it was before it was cut short. I think everything they’ve done from the summer, fall, and leading up to the season in the leadership, I think they took everything we’ve done to a next level. I know we took a big step forward this season because of those guys. I that that’ll be something that will help our program moving forward, as we try to continue that next season.”
Q: If this is the end for those players, what are you going to remember most about them?
GM: “I think it’s everything that I just mentioned to you. But I will also say two additional things onto that. This senior class has helped us continue to build our culture. There are two things we pride ourselves on and 1) That’s how we compete with each other and how we compete in games and 2) Is how much fun we’re having doing it. One of my seniors during the video chat, he said something along the lines that ‘It’s cool to care.’ I think those guys – along with last year’s seniors – but this year’s seniors more so, I think they created a culture, where it is cool to care. The guys care about each other and how hard they’re working. They care about how hard we compete and how our energy is all the time. They also care for each other a lot. That’s something I’ll care about this senior group and that’s going to be their legacy.”
Q: Have you heard anything about the NCAA’s thoughts on possibly giving spring players in Division II and III an extra year of eligibility (On Monday Division I student-athletes were granted the chance to get an extra year of eligibility)?
GM: “I’ve been monitoring the publications that the NCAA puts out. I’ve been waiting to hear what their next steps are. However, in terms of what it looks like or how it’s going to work, we’re not sure yet.”
Q: Do you actually believe that the NCAA will give these players an extra year?
GM: “Based on right now, what they’ve said, I do believe there will be something in awarding an additional season. The issue that they’re running into right now is why it’s taking so long is there’s tons and tons of variables that come into their decision. There’s a lot of Division III schools that do not have graduate schools, so if you’re awarded an extra year and you can only use it at your current institution, there has to be something built into that, which says unless you do not have a graduate program at your institution. I know at the Division I and Division II level, they have to tackle scholarships – that’s a whole different conversation. This is going to be a lot harder than the NCAA telling players that they get an additional year of eligibility.”
Q: Due to the coronavirus – and however long this plays out – how is this going to impact recruiting?
GM: “This timeline in recruiting – as least in terms of men’s lacrosse – is the way it normally is. Where we’re going to see an impact – if at all – will be during the summer. June and July are major recruiting times for our sport, as there are tournaments in all of June and most of July. However long this continues, I think we’ll see an impact on that first – and biggest – recruiting season this summer.”
Q: Have you heard how your players may be practicing on their own and working out during this weird time in history with the coronavirus pandemic, as people are asked not to travel and stay-at-home?
GM: “ All of our players have been very smart and are following the stay-at-home guidelines. All of my student-athletes are doing online classes right now, as well as the rest of the students at Ursinus. They’re going to be doing that for the remainder of the semester. Regarding the workouts, everything they’re doing is at home by themselves. I think that’s the biggest challenge for the student-athletes – especially when they were supposed to be playing. Many of them do not even have a gym to work out in, which makes it tough.
“I think it’s the most challenging time for them, but also the most creative time that these guys will ever experience in their lifetime. They have to find ways to stay in shape, while at home, and being able to keep a stick in their hands in their backyard. Our student-athletes are resilient and they’re figuring it out. I think – and I hope – that they’re doing a great job with it. I think it’s easy to say how are they doing things to get better, as lacrosse players, but I think right now, especially for all student-athletes in the country, the student part comes first and the athlete part comes second. Our students are working at home with a full course load online, learning how to adjust to online courses, and being great citizens, while being smart with how they’re spending it at home.”