On Sunday, Mercy College lacrosse will compete for the NCAA Division II National Championship just 12 years after its formation, completing its stunning rise to prominence.
The program began with a simple conversation. The president of Mercy College walked up to a recent college graduate who was running a lacrosse camp on Fire Island on an unkempt field that was mostly used for summer day camp activities.
She had a vision of adding lacrosse as a collegiate sport at Mercy and needed somebody to help her see that vision through. The coach at the camp was interested in the opportunity but was still just 24-years-old and pursuing his own professional career.
The young man, Jordan Levine, was recently a standout midfielder on the University of Albany lacrosse team. He was named to the 2006, 2007, and 2008 America East All-Conference First Team and was selected by the New Jersey Pride as the 10th pick in the first round of the 2008 Major League Lacrosse (MLL) Collegiate Player draft.
During his rookie season in 2009, Levine helped the Toronto Nationals win the MLL championship. So he wasn’t quite ready to put that all behind him just one year later. He agreed to serve as the assistant coach and assistant athletic director at Mercy College.
He had to begin by simply finding enough players to field a practice. “My first steps were visiting high schools and meeting with coaches, athletic directors, and club coaches,” Levine said. “The lifeblood of any program is recruitment, and that was the key component to establishing success at Mercy.”
Of course, it didn’t hurt that the man doing the recruiting was an MLL All-Star, having been selected in 2009 and later again in 2011 while he was playing for the Rochester Rattlers.
Levine targeted players who would “work hard and do the right thing. That’s something that we talk about every day, both in their personal and professional lives after Mercy.”
Even after getting players to fit Levine’s vision, with 32 freshmen meeting for the first practice, the logistics of building a program from the ground up were endlessly challenging. “We didn’t have a home field when we first started,” recounts Levine. “We took bus rides for practice to and from SUNY Purchase and Manhattanville College,” which was about a thirty-minute trip.
But beyond that, Mercy College Lacrosse had to scratch and claw just to find time on the fields. “A good friend of mine was the head coach at Montclair State at the time, and he was able to help us get some practice time in the evenings from 9-11 p.m. We did whatever we had to in order to make it work.”
That included Levine serving as the assistant coach while also continuing his professional career, which lasted through the 2012 season. During that span, Mercy College Lacrosse put together a 22-20 record in its first three seasons, including an 11-3 record in 2011, which was just its second year as a program.
After a 6-7 finish in 2012, Levine knew that it was time to turn his attention to Mercy full time. “I felt prepared and ready to assume the role,” he remembers. “I felt that my experience both as the assistant coach and a professional player provided me with the right tools to take on the head coaching job.”
He was undoubtedly correct. Since taking over the helm, Levine has yet to suffer a losing season, compiling a 110-38 (.743) record as head coach over the last ten seasons. He’s also been named ECC Coach of the Year in four of the last five years.
Yet, it was after the 2015 season that Levine knew something special was happening. Mercy College Lacrosse had just made its first conference tournament appearance after a 10-7 regular season. Two years later, they were in the conference championship game.
Levine knows that those years were “a testament to the progress [they] were hoping to achieve.”
But building a championship-caliber team took more. It took consistency. It started on the coaching staff, where defensive coordinator Joe Corace has remained with Levine for over ten years. Levine believes that consistency and loyalty have been immeasurable and carry over to the players on the field.
“It is no longer new for us to play in these big games. We know what to expect and we know how to prepare the best we can. ”
Still, even with their past experience, this season has been truly special for the Mavericks. After losing their fourth game of the season to then-number-one-ranked LeMoyne 8-7, the team has rattled off 13 straight wins, including a 12-11 double-overtime revenge thriller against the same LeMoyne team in the national semi-finals.
Mercy College Lacrosse is now one game away from a National Championship. In the last nine years, they’ve had 55 ECC All-Conference selections, 13 USILA All-Americans, two USILA Academic All-Americans, and one CoSIDA Academic All-American.
“I am so proud of the hard work and dedication of our players, including our alumni,” Levine recounts with a smile. “Our goal is to compete on a national level for the foreseeable future. We want to continue producing outstanding young men who are successful in the classroom, on the field, and in their character.”
A team that started with a conversation 12 years ago on a field used for recreation softball games is now one game away from winning a National Championship. It’s a storybook rise to prominence that few could dream up.
UPDATE: Mercy College Lacrosse fell to the University of Tampa 11-7 on Sunday evening.
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