(Photo Courtesy of Merrimack Athletics)
Following two consecutive national title runs in DII, the Merrimack Warriors will be entering the DI ranks and joining the NEC in 2020. There is no doubt that the Warriors come into their first year in DI with high expectations and are expected to compete at a very high level, just like they did in DII for many years.
While Merrimack might be one of a handful of DII programs that can say they are prepared to make a successful jump from DII to DI, it will still be a jump, nonetheless. And how much success the Warriors have in their first few years as a DI program is up for debate, especially given the varying degree of success that other programs who have made the jump have had.
“Success isn’t a number,” said Merrimack head coach Mike Morgan in an interview.
“We are at a position now where we expect to be successful. For us we are going out there and playing to win every game, that’s our expectation. I think we match up well with the teams we are playing and I think we can compete with everyone on our schedule,” Morgan said. “We will get a better idea of where we are after our opener against Holy Cross, but I am confident that we can be successful. But we aren’t going to put a number on it.”
A big reason as to why many are extremely high on Merrimack continuing their success in DI is due to the personnel they bring back. “We only lost one midfielder that played last year off that national championship team, so we bring back a very experienced group that has won a lot,” Morgan said.
However, no matter how successful they are in the regular season you won’t be seeing Merrimack compete in the postseason until 2024 due to the probation or ‘grace period’ that the NCAA puts on athletic departments moving from one division to another.
While some may see the four-year grace period as a thorn in the side, Coach Morgan doesn’t seem to look at it as much as a negative as some others may. “Our goal here is as much about national exposure and winning as much as it is about winning a conference championship. If you are looking to win a conference championship for potentially one year and go to the [NCAA] tournament, you will obviously be matched up with a Maryland or a Virginia in the first round. That’s not the goal of the kids that come to Merrimack.”
Morgan said, “For us, it is much more big-picture than just trying to win a conference championship and make it to the NCAA tournament. And it is much bigger than a probationary period.”
Additionally, while Merrimack enters a new era they will also be part of ushering in a new era of the NEC as they move to two divisions this season, a first for any conference in DI men’s lacrosse. ” It gives you the ability to play a variety of non-league teams…For us, if we had nine conference games that makes it tough…It gives us the ability to play the teams in our division and some cross-division games, but still hold a Grade A out-of-conference schedule.”
With all these changes, it is going to be a very interesting year for Merrimack, and they will be a team of interest around the country, regardless of how how many wins they may or may not have this season.