46 Deep: Ursinus Men’s LAX Story from a Player’s Perspective

Vaughn DiBattista vadibattista@ursinus.edu

It was July 22nd, 2022, and I was boarding a train to Connecticut to visit my teammate, roommate, and quite genuinely one of my closest friends, James Rapp. James and I scheduled this trip weeks in advance as a way to stay in touch over the long summer break, because the last time we spent time together was when our lacrosse season ended that May. It was on this train that I, and every other member of the Ursinus Men’s Lacrosse team, received an abrupt email from Head Coach Gary Mercadante asking all of us to attend an emergency Zoom meeting that night.

It was from there that the rumors started circulating. Some people thought one of our assistant coaches was announcing that he was taking a job with another program and others thought that he would be announcing the hiring of another assistant coach. One of my good buddies even thought that he was announcing new jerseys for the team. Out of all of the theories that came about, no one predicted what would actually happen on that Zoom call that summer evening.

After four years at the helm, Coach Mercadante announced that he would be leaving coaching altogether, citing that he had an opportunity that would allow him to spend more time with his family, while also being in a better position to provide for them. It was a decision that all 46 members of the team understood, and it was met with tremendous respect. Everyone understood that Coach Mercadante was a family man, and every member of the men’s lacrosse team was thankful for his contributions to the program. However, in the midst of this decision, everyone had one question on their mind: What next?

It was on that same Zoom call that Associate Coach Corey Shaffer was announced as the next Head Coach for the Ursinus Men’s Lacrosse team, a promotion that brought ease to the worry of the men’s lacrosse team who had just said goodbye to their leader of the past four years.

To put it plainly, Coach Corey Shaffer is a phenomenal lacrosse coach, and it was nothing short of a blessing that the cards fell into place as they did. Shaffer showcases an elite lacrosse IQ, one that commonly leaves a relatively smart lacrosse player such as myself and many others dumbfounded at the concepts he puts forth. He can confidently teach every detail of the sport of lacrosse to the players on offense, defense, the goalies, the faceoff specialists, the backups, the starters, and probably anyone within a 30 mile radius of wherever he’s located. Shaffer was widely regarded as one of the best assistant coaches in the Centennial Conference, and many thought it was but a matter of time before he took the head coaching mantle at another institution desperate for a great lacrosse mind. Luckily, Shaffer received the opportunity to stay exactly where he wanted to be.

As a backup on the team, I commonly find myself in an observer role of the team’s dynamics, and it’s often that I find myself as being the biggest fan of Ursinus lacrosse while also being rostered. It has been three months since Coach Shaffer’s inaugural season kicked off, and I and many others can confidently say that this season has taken a turn for the better for the program. It was in this eight week stretch that we found our identity as a program, and more importantly, we grew confident in who we were as lacrosse players. This team showcases a high-powered, score-at-will mentality, with the offense riding behind star senior Tyler Neal, who is solidifying his case as the Centennial Conference player of the year. While Neal has been spectacular this season, do not be mistaken, this team is certainly not a one-trick pony.

In just eight games, the team boasts 6 players with more than 10 points, and better yet, three of those players have tallied over 15 goals so far. The attack duo of Jeremy Calabro and Erik Ojert has been nothing short of a spectacle, as the pair display a chemistry that could have very well been crafted in a lab. The two attackmen have combined for 30 points on the year, and their offensive contributions have led to 1/3 of the team’s scoring this season. Along with Calabro and Ojert, we’re seeing a breakout season from midfielder Tyler Falco, who has notched 15 goals in his senior campaign. Falco demonstrates a staggering lefty shot, and as a goaltender myself, it is overwhelmingly hard to prevent that ball from hitting nylon whenever he shoots. Along with Falco, the midfield unit is seeing some astonishing play out of sophomore Chris “Pooch” Pucciarelli and senior Jake Ojert. Pucciarelli is second on the team in assists, as he displays the most impressive footwork that I and many others have ever seen. “He is so hard to guard,” said Junior defender James Rapp. “Sometimes you think you have him locked up, but next thing you know, he’s five yards past you.” While you may not commonly see Jake Ojert on the stat sheet, he is hard to miss when watching the game. Jake Ojert, twin brother of Erik Ojert, is debatably the most valuable player on this Ursinus College team, as he does just about everything.
He scores goals, makes great passes, plays exceptional defense, and show-cases a 40 yard dash comparable to some division 1 wide receivers. If this Ursinus team was a vehicle, Jake Ojert is the engine that keeps this team moving.

On top of the star-studded offense, the Ursinus defense has had a very successful first half of the season, besides a hiccup against York College in February. With alum Nolan Sachs coming back to the team to govern the defense, along with coveted USI-LA All-American goalkeeper, Marc Poust, the Ursinus defense has found its footing. Goaltender Jon Singer has been having a career year, as he
is currently sitting at #2 in the conference in total saves. His dominance and energy in the net has truly solidified this Ursinus defense as some of the best in the conference, and this squad has contributed to some amazing outcomes. The unit boasted a second-half shutout against DeSales University, and held them to just three goals on the day. The talented DeSales roster found it nearly impossible to put the ball in the net, and the Ursinus defensive unit paved the way for the lowest scoring opponent total in quite some time. The squad has seen excellent play out of their returners Chase Rondeau and Paul Army, as the two have carried over their dominant mentality from last season. Along with the pair, the team has seen a drastic improvement out of bench player-turned-key contributor Jeff Douglas. The Junior came back from winter break this year with a willingness to advance amongst the ranks of the team, and Douglas has worked tirelessly to solidify himself as one of the best that this Ursinus team has to offer. Seeing Jeff climb the ranks has been nothing short of inspirational, as he serves as a prime example that it’s never too late to improve.

While this Ursinus team oozes talent on both sides of the ball, it isn’t the talent that leads to their success. It’s the brotherhood and the drive to be better that leads to those Saturday afternoon wins. They don’t win games on gameday, they win them in the fall during those dreaded team lifts. They win them in the winter during those weekly Wednesday 5k runs. They win them on weekends, when the boys spend every waking hour together because they all can confidently call each other family. Coach Corey Shaffer has done a great job maintaining the family dynamics that Coach Mercadante instilled into this program, and this lacrosse team has only seen the tip of the iceberg of success that’s in place for them.