For teams like Syracuse, Navy, and Johns Hopkins, taking the field comes with a sense of “this isn’t my first rodeo.” Varsity lacrosse is over one-hundred years old for some of the country’s most historic programs. Yet, until recent years, the game started to spin its wheels while trying to find traction in the American sports market. Universities weren’t quick to commit to hosting men’s or women’s lacrosse teams and the fans became accustomed to seeing the same helmets on the field, year after year.
It seemed like the tides finally turned over the past decade, with the game planting its roots and starting to sprout around the nation. In 2010, 60 programs competed in NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse. Today we watch 71 teams hit the turf, all with the goal of winning a National Championship. The twelve (Presbyterian ceased play in 2011) new kids on the block are starting to make waves, whether it’s for how they got started or what they’ve accomplished on the field. With so much success surrounding the teams just starting to sprout, it’s important to recognize where these squads came from and their paths to the game’s upper echelon.
In 2014 alone, four universities added NCAA DI lacrosse with four more schools following since.
Each program, from Georgia to Wisconsin and all along the East Coast, has a unique story as to why the athletic department decided to expand. They all offer a model of sorts for other colleges to follow suit.
Whether the game has been on campus for years at the club level or the sight of a lacrosse stick would be as foreign as a flying saucer, various universities have added the sport for a variety of reasons and no two stories are the same.
Follow along as we breakdown the twelve NCAA DI programs to come into the spotlight since 2010. We think it’s important to learn their histories. How long have they been around? Did they come from the MCLA? Have they had many coaching changes? Let’s find out!
Mercer Bears – Macon, GA
Coach: Kyle Hannan, 2013 – Present (Jason Childs, 2011 – 2012)
Conference: SoCon (Started in Atlantic Sun)
Best record: 7-7 in 2014
Started: 2011. Previously a non-affiliated club.
Kicking off operations in 2011, the first NCAA DI lacrosse program in Georgia helped to start the trend of lacrosse spreading like wildfire in the state. Under the direction of Mercer’s first head coach, Jason Childs, the Bears were only able to capture a pair of wins across their first two seasons, one to DIII Carthage College of Wisconsin and the second of Wagner, the first DI victory. Club lacrosse had previously existed at Mercer, but when lacrosse was announced as the latest varsity sport, Coach Childs started from scratch to build a foundation for the Bears’ program. Unable to find much success in the wins column, a change was made and current head coach, Kyle Hannan, took over in 2013. It didn’t take long for Hannan’s guidance to be the difference maker, winning their first game under his command and pulling off four wins in the season. Since football at Mercer was just making its way back to campus at the same time, the lacrosse team was able to find identity in the athletic department right away. Almost right away the university decided to invest in the Tony and Nancy Moye Family Football and Lacrosse Complex, their home since 2012-13. Located nearly an hour and a half south of Atlanta, the Bears still represent the only program at the DI level in Georgia.
Michigan Wolverines – Ann Arbor, MI
Coach: John Paul, 1999 – Present (Beginning with MCLA)
Conference: Big Ten (ECAC until Big Ten formation in 2015)
Best record: 5-8 in 2015
Started: Club since 1940. MCLA from 1999 to 2011. NCAA in 2012.
Lacrosse has been on campus at the University of Michigan since 1940, giving the school claim to one of the nation’s oldest clubs. Homegrown product John Paul took over the reins in 1999, eventually leading the program into the top club division in the country, the MCLA. From there the Wolverines terrorized their club competition, capturing three-straight National Championships; 2008, 2009, and 2010. Coach Paul was able to compile a career record of 241-44 and earn the title as the first MCLA program to go undefeated at 21-0. Under Paul, Michigan earned thirteen-straight MCLA tournament berths, all but one season reaching at least the quarterfinals and eleven conference championships. Focusing on running the club as closely as possible to the university’s varsity program standards, Paul’s on-field triumphs were recognized as much as his ability to run a tight ship. Following the success, in 2012 the school promoted the club to an official varsity sport. From 2012 to now, the Wolverines have yet to finish with a winning record. This could be their season, kicking off 2017 with a clean 4-0 start, and capturing national attention. After the rough transition to the NCAA, Michigan is now climbing the ranks and has seen two players make their way off to pro lacrosse. Starting in the club years, 2008’s face-off specialist, Brekan Kohlitz, was drafted to the Washington Bayhawks before 2016’s team leader, Kyle Jackson, was picked by the Rochester Knighthawks.
High Point Panthers – High Point, NC
Coach: Jon Torpey, 2011 – Present
Conference: SoCon (Started Independent, then Atlantic Sun)
Best record: 9-6 in 2016 (OT win over UVA) & 10-7 in 2015
Started: Exhibition in 2012. NCAA in 2013
In 2010, High Point University announced the addition of North Carolina’s third NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse team. Earning the title as High Point’s first men’s head coach, Jon Torpey began building the program in 2011. Laying the groundwork to hit the ground running, Torpey brought in his first recruiting class and began an exhibition schedule in 2012 to prepare the team for competition at the highest level. Lacrosse came to High Point after the school approved a $2.1 billion growth plan, announced right before Torpey’s hiring. The Panthers corralled 20 players for the 2011-12 season, all redshirted to begin in 2013, before growing the roster to 39 the following year. Coach Torpey’s program wasted little time to make a statement in DI lacrosse, qualifying once for the NCAA Tournaments and missing another by only a since goal. As the Panthers entered 2017, they team had their heads held high, representing one of only twelve schools to win nine games, or more, over each of the past three seasons. 2016 featured arguably the program’s most successful season to date. The Panthers captured a 9-6 record, highlighted by a 12-11 overtime thriller against Virginia that jumpstarted a 9-3 run to close out 2016.
Marquette Golden Eagles – Milwaukee, WI
Coach: Joe Amplo, 2011 – Present
Conference: Big East (Started Independent)
Best record: 11-5 in 2016
Started: 2013. Previously a non-affiliated club.
Closely tracking lacrosse’s growth in the United States, Marquette University announced at the end of 2010 the addition of men’s and women’s lacrosse teams for the 2012-13 season. The Golden Eagles were penciled as an Independent their inaugural season of play before joining the Big East for lacrosse for 2013-14. Various representations of club lacrosse at Marquette have taken their field over the years in the Upper Midwest. When Joe Amplo began to shape the program in 2011, he started from scratch to build Wisconsin’s first NCAA DI unit. Coach Amplo took the job in Milwaukee after ten years of coaching at his alma mater, Hofstra. As a player, Amplo played in three NCAA Tournaments, before coaching the Pride to another eight playoff opportunities as a defensive coordinator. To many, the Golden Eagle came out of nowhere, 2014’s 6-10 season was succeeded with a 10-6 record, followed by 11-5 in 2016. The highlight of Marquette’s infant program came just last season when Amplo’s crew took down Villanova and the defending NCAA Champions, Denver, in the Big East Tournament to win their first conference title. The win came with an automatic bid to the big dance, where they drew North Carolina in the first round. Although they lost their first-ever playoff game, the program only fell by a single goal, 9-10, to the Tarheels, the team that would end up winning the title.
Boston University Terriers – Boston, MA
Coach: Ryan Polley, 2012 – Present
Best record: 8-7 in 2016
Started: 1920s. Club since 1972. Joined the NCAA in 2014.
Lacrosse has been played on the college campuses in Bean Town for decades, but Boston University made it official when they founded the school’s first club program in 1972, run by the Physical Education Department. Different student formed clubs have existed around BU as far back as the 1920’s, creating a rich, but hardly recorded, history of the game at the university. The Terriers’ various formations competed in multiple club leagues until eventually finding a home in the MCLA until 2013. Ready to make the transition to NCAA DI, the Terriers were welcomed into Massachusetts as the fourth team in the state, joining Harvard as the second in the greater-Boston. With little to no overlap between the club programs and the newly founded varsity team, Boston’s first head coach, Ryan Polley, would begin working on the construction of his first recruiting class in 2012. Before BU, Polley spent six season helping to run the show at Yale, running the defensive side from 2006-12. At Yale he helped earn claim an Ivy League title, earning their first Tournament bid since 1992. The Terriers original freshman recruiting class are now a group of battle-hardened seniors, jumping off to a quick 3-0 start in 2017. Coach Polley will look to build on his previous success by leading the Terriers to the Patriot League Tournament in 2017.
Richmond Spiders – Richmond, VA
Coach: Dan Chemotti, 2012 – Present
Conference: SoCon (Atlantic Sun in 2014)
Best record: 11-5 in 2015 & 2016
Started: 2014. Previously a non-affiliated club.
Virginia is no stranger to the game of lacrosse. Yet, if you look for the hotspots, the state starts to appear less saturated. Where the game is found, people play a lot of it and the state capital of Richmond is no exception. The high school scene is still booming and it’s no surprise that when locals decided to stay near home for college, students aren’t ready to give up the sport. It’s unclear when the first official club started on campus, but the Spiders fielded teams in the modern NCLL since the mid-2000s. Following the popularity of the sport in Virginia, an athletic department reconfiguration led to the downside of sports at the university, allowing for lacrosse to slide in as one of just seven men’s varsityprograms. First came the hiring of Coach Dan Chemotti, where he spent the next couple school years getting up to speed to hit the ground running. As the team started to draw in attention and potential student athletes, the Spiders took the opportunity to compete in the MCLA for 2012 and 2013 to help take preparation steps toward varsity status. Just operating a varsity club allowed Richmond to offer compensation to the coaching staff, have access to better facilities, and bring trainers onboard to help legitimize things. All of the baby steps paid off when Coach Chemotti took his first-year Spiders to the NCAA Tournament right out of the gate. The next season, Chemotti raised the bar by pulling off an undefeated record in the SoCon, leading the Spiders to a conference championship each year they’ve been in action.
Monmouth Hawks – West Long Branch, NJ
Coach: Brian Fisher, 2012 – Present
Conference: Metro Atlantic
Best record: 7-7 in 2016
It’s hard to believe with the popularity of lacrosse in the Garden State there were only two universities with NCAA DI programs before the inception of Monmouth. In 2012, the coastal university broke news that they would join Rutgers and Princeton as the third varsity program in New Jersey. Not long after, Coach Brian Fisher took over at the helm and began the process of developing a program to compete at the highest level of interscholastic sports. With very little consistency at the club level, Fisher was challenged to grow the lacrosse culture at the school in whatever way he see fit. Using the time to get their affairs in order, Monmouth chose to focus on development rather than playing a season or two in the MCLA to pick up speed. Although they’ve yet to break .500 in their three seasons as a program, the Hawks most recently reached the MAAC semifinals in back-to-back years and pulled of a flawless 6-0 record last season while on the road. The final victory while away took place the last game of season at Siena, where a 14-13 overtime win would propel Monmouth to the postseason. Coach Fisher’s large group of freshman that he started with have now grown up and look to guide the ship toward the team’s first conference title in 2017.
Furman Paladins – Greenville, SC
Coach: Richie Meade, 2012 – Present
Conference: SoCon (Atlantic Sun in 2014)
Best record: 4-9 in 2015
Started: MCLA in 2006, NCAA in 2014
Although the state of North Carolina was boasting the success of NCAA DI lacrosse through Duke and UNC, their neighbor to the south held on until 2014 before evering having a team of their own. With the help of an anonymous alumnus donor, Furman announced the addition of a men’s lacrosse program after $5 million were gifted to the university for athletics in 2011. Immediately the Athletic Department got to work on the coaching search and right away announced the hiring of Team USA skipper and former Navy head coach, Richie Meade. Coming in with a background of working at military academies, Meade brought in a strict regime and began running a tight ship from day one. The oldest university in South Carolina, Furman has some of the strictest requirements for acceptance and Coach Meade follows suit by holding his athlete’s to the highest standards. Before 2014, a club lacrosse program existed on campus, competing in the MCLA prior to the addition of the varsity program. Originally the Paladins took the field in the fledgling Atlantic Sun Conference, before an agreement would shift the the lacrosse teams into the newly formed Southern Conference. Coach Meade is still working to lead his group to their first winning season and to the conference playoffs. Working with an incredibly large class for four years may be the key to bringing success in South Carolina. If 2017 isn’t their year, the nineteen man freshman group carries a lot of promise for the future.
NJIT Highlanders – University Heights Newark, NJ
Coach: Travis Johnson, 2013 – Present
Best record: 1-14 in 2016
NCAA Division I athletics are in the midst of only the ninth season at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. When the addition of men’s lacrosse was announced in 2013, the Highlanders would only be so far behind the progress of the other varsity sports. The initial news of a men’s program on campus seemed not much more than a rumor when it first broke. In 2013, NJIT posted a job opening for a head coaching position to get things started before the school ever announced the addition of the men’s team. The school’s first hire was Travis Johnson, who laid the groundwork for the program and has continued to lead the Highlanders since. With only a NCLL level club, playing sparse schedules, to work with, Johnson was tasked with finding athletes to start the process. The announcement and roll out all happened in under two years with no help from the club program. The small, urban campus is challenged by size and specialized education, although its urban location and state affiliation help open the doors for recruits. The Highlanders continue to seek their first winning season in school history as the fight through a very diverse schedule, operating as an independent.
UMass Lowell Riverhawks – Lowell, MA
Coach: Ed Stephenson
Conference: America East
Best record: 4-12 2016
Started: Club in 1976. NCAA in 2015
It’s hard to consider Lowell any sort of hotbed for lacrosse. That didn’t stop lacrosse balls from getting tossed around the grounds of the University of Massachusetts’ Lowell campus since at least 1976, when the very first club team was founded. Over the years, different versions of Riverhawks lacrosse have faced competition in the club ranks, from the NCLL to the MCLA. Although the game had planted its roots in Lowell, it would take nearly forty years before the school would take the plunge into elevating lacrosse into a varsity sport. Already boasting a long club history, with extremely well kept records, lacrosse culture was already sowed at Lowell. Being in close proximity to many schools on the eastern seaboard to keep travel expenses down, it makes logical sense to increase the resources dedicated to lacrosse at a time when the game is booming around the country. With no help from the club program, the athletic department moved forward by announcing Ed Stephenson as the first leader of their new DI squad. Working against a long history of fighting to keep small sports on campus, Coach Stephenson built up the Riverhawks in just two years before taking the plunge into the deep America East conference in 2015. The affiliation choice followed the conference’s commitment to make lacrosse the sport of emphasis for the spring seasons. Only the fifth Division I team in the lacrosse-rich state, Lowell will keep their mind focused on pulling off the school’s first winning season and making it to the America East Tournament, offering an automatic bid to the big dance.
Hampton Pirates – Hampton, VA
Coach: Lloyd Carter
Best record: 0-5 in 2016
Started: Club in 2011, NCAA in 2016
Ever since the historic program at Morgan State was disbanded, it took thirty-five years to finally bring varsity lacrosse back to the campus of a HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). One of the Morgan Bear’s top athletes to ever take the field, Lloyd Carter, had the vision to bring lacrosse back to a HBCU, with his sights set on the coastal Hampton University. After meeting a young man inspired by the game, Carter put the wheels in motion to give back to the game in a bigger way. Starting with a club team in 2011, Coach Carter laid the groundwork for a historic HBCU lacrosse comeback. It didn’t take long for Carter to be given the title of Head Coach by the athletic department, and he began using the resources he built through Blax Lax, an organization dedicated to drawing African-Americans to the sport of lacrosse, to grow awareness around Hampton. In May of 2015, Hampton announced they would elevate Pirates Lacrosse to the Division I level, starting by transitioning the club to varsity status. The first couple of years in the NCAA will feature an experimental schedule, competing against teams across multiple divisions and even the club level. The lack of a full schedule didn’t stop ESPN from taking over campus last season to broadcast the historic return of lacrosse to a HBCU when they kicked off the season against Roberts Wesleyan. Still building as they go, the Pirates return to the turf for the second season. The task of capturing the school’s first win will stay on the back of their minds as they continue to grow their skills in 2017.
Cleveland State Vikings – Cleveland, OH
Coach: Dylan Sheridan 2015 – Present
Best record: Currently 2-2
Started: 2017 (Club in 2013, NCLL)
The most recent team to join the ranks of NCAA Division I lacrosse comes in what some would consider a really unlikely place. Rumors flooded the scene about which major university would pick up the game next and in the meantime Cleveland State cruised in under the radar. The game was sparse on the urban campus in Cleveland until recent years when a club was formed to compete in the NCLL. The school has been going through countless renovations and the facelift has been drawing not only athletic attention, but with an increased focus on academics, a more diverse range of student started eyeing Cleveland State. Call it the right place at the right time, Cleveland native Dylan Sheridan had just left his assistant coaching gig at Denver for a role at Princeton when the rumblings of a team in his hometown started to surface. A graduate of Claremont McKenna, an MCLA school, Sheridan found his way to the sidelines of DI lacrosse under the wing of Bill Tierney which started his development for leading at the highest levels. Meanwhile the university brought in men’s lacrosse due to the game’s growth in US, particularly around Ohio. The birth of Vikings Lacrosse came with perfect timing, happening in the midst of the economic revival of the city of Cleveland. Now the sports-centric city is embracing their newest team, the second DI lacrosse team in the state, after Ohio State. A few recruits came to campus before the program was ready for play, but the team officially came together in last fall before taking the field at the beginning of this month. The Cleveland State club lacrosse team still competes in the NCLL, operating independently from varsity. Before they even got started, the Vikings made headlines by selling out their first-ever home game, hosting Michigan live on Lax Sports Network. Only finding wins over local DIII squads, Cleveland State is still working toward the first Division I win in team history.
High Point 2013
UMass Lowell 2015
Cleveland State 2017