The first-year men’s lacrosse program at Mercer County Community College set some lofty goals for its inaugural season of play.
The Vikings came into this season eyeing the Region 19 championship. It didn’t matter that the team had never played a game before this season.
The players and coaches came into the first year confident with their plan and their effort was rewarded last weekend with a Region 19 title.
Mercer topped Union County College, 17-6, in the semifinals last Friday before defeating the host school, Ocean County College, 11-10, in the championship game in Toms River.
The Vikings earned a spot in the National Junior College Athletic Association national tournament, where they will open play on Saturday at Onandaga in Syracuse.
“Even though this was our first year, our goal was always to win the region,” said Mercer coach Rob Siris, the former head coach at Hopewell Valley Central High School. “We talked about it all along with the guys. We felt like we had a good game plan and we did what we set out to do.
“This was a great achievement for Mercer County lacrosse. We played a tough schedule and I think that prepared us. One of the lessons I learned while I was coaching at Hopewell is that you have to play the best if you want to grow. When I was at Hopewell we tried to schedule the top teams in the state. We have five losses this year but they are all to top 10 opponents.”
Mercer was led this season by former a Hopewell Valley star, Brady Moore. The Region 19 Player of the Year scored five goals and contributed an assist in the victory over Ocean. Justin Moore recorded three goals and two assists in the victory for the college based in West Windsor.
“I think we kind of expected it because we all worked hard,” Moore said of the Vikings’ success this season. “We all stayed after practice and got in extra reps. I felt like we all bought in. Now we get to play on Saturday and that will be the final test to see if we can play up to that next level.
“We played some good competition this year, which is what we did in high school. That his (Siris’) mantra. He was my coach in high school and we would play all the top teams. You can’t get better unless you play against teams that are better than you.”
Moore and Siris teamed up for a pair of titles while at Hopewell Valley, winning the Mercer County Tournament in 2012 and 2015. Moore spent a year at Division 1 Jacksonville before taking the last two years off and returning to the field this year for Mercer.
“It’s been a good ride,” Moore said. “We won two MCTs in high school and then we win the region this year. Having the opportunity at Mercer has been great. Basically, I played (at Jacksonville) and then took some time off to mature a little more. This opportunity popped up. I don’t know if I would have gone back to school if this didn’t happen. It pretty much worked out great.
“I was coaching some Hopewell rec teams and shooting around a little bit. I’m also a personal trainer, so i was working out. I felt like I never lost the conditioning.”
Mercer will take a 10-5 record into the NJCAA tournament. The Vikings are the No. 6 seed in a six-team field, but at this point everything they do is icing on the cake to a great season.
“It just worked out great,” Siris said. “The kids have been great about everything we’ve tried to tell them. This can be a stepping stone to another place. This past weekend a good amount of coaches were at our games and our watching guys. There are Division 1, 2 and 3 programs that are interested.
“We were trying our best and made good progress in year one.”
Having a player like Moore certainly helped the cause. He produced five goals in the semifinal victory over Union in addition to his five in the final.
“Brady was Player of Year in Region 19 and was named tournament MVP,” Siris said. “I have had a good relationship with him. To win this one together was great. It was our third time winning a title together. He is an excellent player and the best part is how far he has come as a leader. He he has helped a lot of the guys to improve.”
While Siris was impressed with Moore, the player was equally impressed by the job his coach did putting everything into place.
“He really did a good job of getting good, decent kids,” Moore said. “We all got along together, which helps. We all worked hard and wanted the same thing, which was to win the region. I think what we’ve done should lead to more success in this area.”
The Vikings also have another Hopewell connection in Murf Butler, who is a Hopewell graduate and former defender for the Bulldogs. He is the defensive coordinator for MCCC.
The roster also includes several other players who played their high school lacrosse in the Mercer County area. Tyler Nkadi of Princeton, Cameron Potts of Ewing, Clay Fauver of Hopewell, Mike Hogan of Allentown and Hightstown's Tom Hartnett are all a part of the program. Isaac Lieboff of Hopewell also played this season.