February 4, 2011

Mercer Draws Interest as Georgia's First Division I Lacrosse Program

by Patrick Stevens | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

"They've tested my patience and I've tested their patience," Mercer men's lacrosse coach Jason Childs said. The Bears make their debut as Georgia's first Division I team Feb. 12 at Ohio State with a roster that includes 29 freshmen.

Mercer men's lacrosse coach Jason Childs knew his first-year program was wildly inexperienced.

Putting a number on it just made it more apparent.

Childs took the ages of each of his 31 eligible players, added in his own and those of his team's assistant coaches, graduate assistants and athletic trainer and averaged them out. The total: 18.6.

"We are incredibly young," Childs said with a laugh.

That's to be expected with a startup program, one that happens to be the first Division I team in Georgia. The Bears debut Feb. 12 at Ohio State, and Childs expects his opening day roster to feature a senior, a sophomore ... and 29 freshmen.

The history of first-year programs is mixed, at best. Last spring, Jacksonville went 6-7 and beat an eventual NCAA tournament team (Denver) in its third game. A year earlier, Detroit was winless in its first season before earning three victories in 2010.

Combined with the youthfulness, it ensures the Bears will measure their progress in more than simply wins in their first season.

"They've tested my patience and I've tested their patience, and we're both kind of giving a bit and moving to the middle," Childs said. "They're really good kids. They have not given me one bit of trouble. There have been some moments when they're going to be kids, but they're growing and they're working hard to get better. All I can ask is they're moving in the right direction."

That seemed to be the case last Saturday, when Mercer had its first scrimmage -- two weeks before its actual debut.

Childs passed on the opportunity to face another team in the fall, so when Saturday's visit from Georgia Tech's club team arrived, Childs did his best to play on the teams' respective mascots to fire up his eager team. The result? A 16-2 Bears victory.

"I told them we hibernated all fall," Childs said. "It was time to go hunt the honey. I don't know if it was that or us not playing any outside competition. They just unleashed. They played. They just came out with a ton of passion and just worked their tails off."

There isn't much certainty as the season arrived. Childs is playing 12 midfielders, using the philosophy of the sum being greater than the individual parts. Three freshmen -- Jake Beyer (one of two New York natives on the roster), Alex Goldsberry and Luke Rutledge -- will start on defense.

Meanwhile, Childs believes one of the most promising players on his roster is midfielder Keoni Rausch, who switched to long pole.

"That has been a fantastic move," Childs said. "We're going to look like geniuses, but it's all him."

Few coaches are as prepared to build a program from scratch as Childs. He was the first coach at Presbyterian, another southern school that added lacrosse within the last decade. Childs acknowledged there are similarities between the jobs, such as the inexperience of both rosters in their first season. But no situation is precisely the same.

For now, there is progress to witness every day. Mercer's scrimmage Saturday drew a standing room-only crowd, reflecting an excitement surrounding the school's newest team. And should the incremental improvement continue, Childs believes things will bode well for the Bears over the long haul.

"It's just to be better every day, to make sure we're better Feb. 3 than we were Feb. 2," Childs said. "That's what we're looking to do. Once we get the execution and we get a little bit older and more mature, as long as we're on the right path, we won't have to waste time figuring out what direction to go in. We'll know we're going in the right direction."

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