There are several notable events going on in area college sports this week.
One of the more heartening local sports stories of 2013 is the rapid ascendance of Jacksonville University's men’s and women’s lacrosse teams. The programs haven’t been around long, yet they are reaching national power status quickly and dominating the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in the process.
JU’s men’s team suffered its first MAAC defeat, 14-11, to Marist College on April 13, snapping the Dolphins’ four-game winning streak. JU’s conference in other sports, the Atlantic Sun, prepares to add lacrosse to its roster next season. The Dolphins are a resilient bunch, as their recent trip to Virginia Military Institute indicates. The Keydets rallied, even tying the game at halftime, but the Dolphins came out of the break strong and finished off VMI.
In the 13-8 victory, two Dolphins with international backgrounds — Paraguay native Ari Waffle and Cameron Mann of Hamilton, Ontario — did hat tricks. Kyle Rebman and Rob Wertz each scored twice, and Will Crenshaw, Dakota Rohlin and Brian Kensil each added a goal.
In addition to all of those scoring threats, JU’s defense was equally solid — especially in the final minutes. Pete DeLuca stopped 15 shots on goal, including seven in the fourth quarter. The JU team won in Lexington, Va. — a tough place to play. It’s easy to imagine them making a deep run in the MAAC Tournament the first week of May.
The same can be said for the women’s lacrosse team. The Dolphins routed the University of Detroit Titans on April 14, improving to 11-4 overall. The JU women are 3-0 in coverence, clinching at least a share of the A-Sun title.
The women’s squad is a family affair. Head coach Mindy McCord is married to an assistant, Paul McCord — a relationship that only adds to the storybook quality of this program and this season.
JU’s success in lacrosse augurs well for local college sports. We’ve seen Northeast Florida teams struggle in basketball on the Division I level; however, dominance in lacrosse is possible with savvy recruiting and strong adherence to best practices.
Young the Giant
Speaking of basketball, the University of Florida fell short of the Final Four, but at least Jacksonville native Patric Young will come back for his senior year.
“I have the chance to finish my degree and play another season for Coach [Billy] Donovan, with great teammates and friends at a place I love,” Young said in a statement. “These first three years have gone by in a flash, and I can't believe it's my senior year already. I have gotten better as a player and better as a man at the University of Florida. I believe God has my future in his hands, so all I am worried about now is getting better this summer and making it the hardest I have trained in my life.”
Young, who played for Providence and Paxon in high school, is well-positioned to be the focal point of the Gators’ offense next year, and his decision to return might be the difference between a rebuilding year and a deep post-season run.
UNF Passes on the Pigskin
Kudos to President John Delaney for resisting the temptation to add a football program at University of North Florida. His stated reason — that a school needs at least 25,000 students to add football — is not completely accurate. JU has a credible small-college program with far fewer students. That being said, I wasn’t surprised that Delaney demurred on the pigskin question.
When I talked to him several years ago on the subject, Delaney was not enthusiastic about the prospect of football — and I wasn’t sure what had changed his mind to consider it this time around.
Thoughts of big-time college football being played every Saturday in Jacksonville are tempting, but realistically it never would have been big time at UNF — not the way it is in Gainesville and Tallahassee. These days, not every game is a guaranteed sellout in those major college towns, either.