Gary Mercadante, Head Coach of the Ursinus Men’s Lacrosse team, entered the program last year with only one goal in mind; to change the culture of the team. He knew that the team had the strength, skill, and game IQ they needed for success, but something needed to be adjusted in order to see a positive result.
From a young age Coach Merc has always had a passion for lacrosse. He played for a majority of his life growing up in New Jersey and eventually knew he wanted to play at the collegiate level. Mercadante remembers his passion for high school ball and the number of memories he made playing on the turf field at the Delbarton School, where he was a four-time New Jersey state champion. After high school, Coach Merc played for Dickinson College, a member of our very own Centennial Conference. During his career at Dickinson, Mercadante was a four-year letter winner and two-year captain. This lead to his involvement with coaching, as he helped Dickinson recruit players during his summers. Mercadante explained, “while recruiting for my team, I picked up on a lot of key factors about players individually and how to build a team by finding guys who could complement each other and produce a win.”
After assistant coaching for Ursinus, Coach Merc ran a start-up Men’s Lacrosse program for Delaware Valley College, while still keeping tabs on Ursinus and following the team and its successes. He describes the day he saw the posting for the Head Coaching position at Ursinus, and the urge to get this job being the only thing on his mind. “I have always kept in touch with Coach Steele (former UC Men’s Coach) and when I heard he was leaving I knew this was my chance to do something big.”
The Bears were coming off of a 3-11 season, so Mercadante had to strategize about what the team needed to do in order to turn things around. The pressure of convincing a roster of 42 men to jump on board with him and his vision was at first intimidating. But after a few short weeks of interacting with the team, he realized that these guys wanted serious change. Coach Merc explained, “they wanted to see the team turn itself around and gain success.” He continued, “all 42 of them came in willing to adapt and listen to new ideas, and I knew that if I could get them to work with me and be on the same page we were going to make a name for ourselves in the Centennial.” He gives much credit to his seniors and leaders of the team, “They were willing to do anything to change the culture and trickle down the new expectations I had set for these men.”
In a few months, a change in the UC Men’s Lacrosse team had become quite apparent. From how they presented themselves off the field, the amount of work they were putting into the classroom, practice, and the weight room, to the Saturday morning runs and team hugs after every practice and game, Mercadante was beginning to see the culture he had hoped and aspired for become a reality for Ursinus Men’s Lax. By February 1st, the boys were hungry, the season began and Coach Merc and his team established a common goal, to create a name and standard for Ursinus. The first six games Ursinus was on fire, with a 6-0 out of conference record. Their first in-conference game was against Gettysburg a well-known, strong, and successful team. The boys lost to them 13-9 on March 23rd, a game that none of them, especially Mercadante, would forget. The boys carried on and had a record of 5-3 in the conference, beating strong opponents such as Franklin and Marshall. Coach Merc stated, “As time went on I was realizing that our opponents were not expecting much out of us, and that’s the fuel to our fire that we needed, we had nothing to lose, and our goal was to leave each team with a slap in the face that Ursinus Lacrosse was not to be overlooked.” After making it into the playoffs and beating Franklin and Marshall for a second time, the boys packed their bags and headed back to Gettysburg where they would fight for a championship title. “I am glad Gettysburg beat us the first go around,” Mercadante states, “I don’t know if we would have beaten them in the final game if we had won the first time.” When asked what he was thinking on his way to the game all Mercadante could say was, “We were ready. We had prepared for this game, my coaching staff had made adjustments Gettysburg was not prepared for, the boys were in this and this was our time.” The boys beat Gettysburg 10-8 on Saturday May 4th, a moment that will last with every one of them for the rest of their lives. Coach Mercadante stood on the field at Gettysburg College, a smile larger than life on his face, with the pride and love for a team he did not know he could have. He had set the tone of the culture for Ursinus Men’s Lacrosse, and his team had emulated exactly what he had created.
All Mercadante can hope for this season is that the boys stay true to themselves and carry on the culture and drive that had formed last year. He truly believes that if the boys can be consistent with their work ethic, respect of the game and of each other, then there will be success again for the Bears. “Last year is over, the championship is in the past, we pick up and work to be better than the year before, and we continue to demand the respect, we deserve, for Ursinus Men’s Lacrosse.” Coach Mercadante will continue to hold his team to a high standard, and hug each and every one of them after every practice and game. “We win together, we lose together. Every man on this team has a role and is important in their own way. We are a family and that is why we will continue to do big things.”
For the Men’s Lacrosse 2020 Season, the boys have begun to practice, and get back to the grind. They will start their season against Stevenson College on February 15th.