Men's lacrosse makes big impression in campus debut
The Dolphins narrowly fell to the team of all-stars, 16-15.
The Dolphins narrowly fell to the team of all-stars, 16-15.
When lacrosse was first played in the 12th century, many Native American cultures used the sport as a war game to resolve conflicts. The game was played by anywhere from 100 to more than 1,000 warriors on a field that could stretch for miles.

In those early times, lacrosse knew no boundaries and took on any challenge - big or small. That sentiment is echoing again with the inaugural season of the men’s lacrosse program at Jacksonville University.

JU will face a daunting schedule, starting with the program’s first game against nationally ranked North Carolina on Feb. 6. The Dolphins, the first and only Division I men’s program in the state of Florida, are also making a visit to nationally ranked Duke while having six home games on the slate, including visits from Denver and Rutgers, with a trip to Atlanta, Ga. to take on Presbyterian.

“Our approach is to set the bar high,” said head coach Matt Kerwick. “If we want to continue to recruit the way we have so far, we have to play a top-flight schedule. The competitiveness of Division I lacrosse means that there are no easy games out there and everyone you’ll face is really strong.”

Kerwick knows a thing or two about success. As the head coach of Hobart, Kerwick led his team to a Patriot League championship in his first year as a coach. Before his coaching career, he boasted an impressive resume as a student-athlete. Playing at Hobart, Kerwick was a four-year letterwinner in men's lacrosse and hockey. He was a member of four NCAA Division III National Championship teams and received first-team all-America honors, including the NCAA Tournament MVP award in 1989. Serving as a captain of both the lacrosse and hockey teams his senior year, Kerwick received the William C. Stiles Award - an honor given to a senior student-athlete for leadership, determination and character.

Now that determination is translating into ambition for the JU program. There are no reservations about putting this program on the map nationally and there is one way to do that – schedule aggressively.

With that mindset, it was natural for Kerwick to roll out his first team against the best in its first game ever – a group of professional all stars and former college standouts.

Fall games tend to merit little mention, but for JU, this was 18 months in the making. For Kerwick, it was the culmination of a year of building – from nothing but an office and a computer, to a roster of more than 50 young men looking to create a legacy.

That legacy began when they walked out to practice for the first time with more than 70 student-athletes trying out. Now, they were taking the next step – walking onto the practice field for the first men’s lacrosse game ever to be played on JU’s campus.

The Dolphins proved to the lacrosse community that while they may be a new, young team, what they lack in experience they make up for in ability and dedication, narrowly falling to the team of all-stars, 16-15.

As impressive as the performance was, it was topped by the support from the lacrosse community as more than 300 fans were in attendance.

Ryan Serville led the Dolphin attack with four goals and one assist while Nick Scalzo tallied three goals of his own. Camm Mann found himself making an impact all over the field, picking up a game-high seven ground balls to go along with his one goal and one assist. Defensively, goalie Brendan Nicklason and defenseman Jake Ziegler controlled play inside the box and made it difficult for the impressive all-star attack.

“It was a great lacrosse game with some beautiful goals at both ends of the field,” said Kerwick. “We knew we would see some aggressive offense today from an excellent all star team. Our defense doesn’t get to see the stick-work and improvising that we faced so it was a great experience for such a young group.”

For the all-star team, Chicago Machine attackman Terry Kimener led the visitors with two goals and four assists, two of the assists going to Ohio State graduate Nick Williams who ended the game with two goals and two assists of his own. Also getting involved for the all-stars was Bryan Bendig, notching three scores on the afternoon. The strong lineup was impressed with the effort from the upstart program.

“Most of the pro guys that I spoke to were very excited to be a part of helping us build the program,” said Kerwick. “The most common thing I heard was that the speed and depth of our team was very impressive. They couldn’t tell the guys apart; every time they looked up they felt like they were seeing the same guy running up and down the field.

“There isn’t a lot of drop off from the top to bottom of the roster and that’s what you need to be competitive in college lacrosse. Your last 10-15 guys on your roster have to commit to play hard every game and that’s exactly what we’ve been seeing so far.”

With the success of last month’s scrimmage, light has to be shed on the young team’s success in such a short period of time. One of the biggest influences, according to Kerwick, is the intensity of practice.

“We have a very diverse team and a great mix of guys from the North and South. Our group has ended up being evenly matched in regards to where each member of our team is from. A lot of times, during practice, we’ll split the team up and have a battle of North vs. South. The North wins most of the time but the South is really starting to close the gap and play a lot better.”

Last month’s scrimmage was the only one the team will participate in during the fall. Kerwick’s reasoning behind that logic is to save the scrimmages for the spring.

“We decided to only play one game this fall so that we can continue to develop and shape this team and then get the most out of the opportunities in the spring. The scrimmage this fall was exactly what we needed, though, and the coaching staff is pleased with the effort and intensity with which the guys are approaching each day of practice and strength training.”

Spring is just around the corner for this young team and an inaugural date with nationally ranked North Carolina awaits. While Kerwick may not know what’s in store for this satellite program, he does know what to expect.

“We’re going to set the bar high and compete in every single contest regardless of the opponent we’re facing. This team is going to win some games and I think they’re going to catch a lot of people by surprise. We want our best game to be our last game because we always want to be improving. We’re going to play as well and hard as we can and we’ve got to be ready, UNC on February 6th will be here before we know it.”