(Photo Courtesy of Mercer Athletics)
Welcome to the Fall Snapshot series. Throughout the fall I will be taking an early look at all 75 DI men’s college lacrosse teams and giving a snapshot of where each is heading into the 2023 season.
Head Coach: Ryan Danehy (first season, 2022-Present)
Mercer 2022 Record: 5-10 (2-3 SoCon)
Key Departures: Sean Goldsmith (A), Matthew Wiengardner (M)
Key Returners: Taylor Dooley (A), Ashton Wood (FO), Wesley Chairs (D), Colin Kelley (G)
Transfer Additions: N/A
Having played lacrosse since 2011, the Mercer Bears have constantly been on the outside looking in as far as its respective conference standing goes. The 2014 season, in which the Bears went 7-7, is the only one of the program’s campaigns that ended in the postseason.
In 2022, with Air Force and Bellarmine having left the league, Mercer looked to have an opportunity to get back to the postseason during the last year of SoCon lacrosse. However, a 13-10 win over an improving VMI program held them outside of playoff contention once more.
As the Bears march towards its 2023 campaign, newness highlights almost every aspect of the program. Mercer will be competing in a new conference this spring: ASUN, and will be doing so with a new head man in Ryan Danehy leading the way. Those two aspects alone, coupled with the Bears’ struggles in the win column a year ago, lead to many questions surrounding this program at the moment.
What to Expect From The Mercer Offense?
Each of the past four seasons, the Mercer Bears’ offense has been headlined and led by attackman Sean Goldsmith. He put a cap on his time in Macon last spring with a career-best 51-point (35G/16A) campaign. Goldsmith is one of four top-five scorers who will not be back for this Mercer squad in 2023, along with midfielders Matthew Wiengardner, Cole Leggett, and Daniel Shumake. In total, the Bears lose 122 points and 72 goals with the departure of those aforementioned four.
Junior attackman is Mercer’s lone returner among its top five point-getters from a year ago. Serving as the Bears’ second-leading scorer each of the past two seasons, he put up 27 points off 18 goals and nine assists in 11 games last spring. He now heads into his junior season as the fcae of this Mercer offense that will feature many new faces. Midfielders Parker Junod (8G/6A) and Khory Reid (9G/2A), as well as attackman Carl Klepper (10G/3A), are some of the other top returners for this Mercer offense. The three were the Bears’ seventh, eighth, and ninth scorers in 2022.
This offense which averaged 10.4 goals per game last spring loses a good chunk of its top end talent that has been on display each of the past few seasons. Dooley, Klepper, Junod, and Reid form a solid core for which this unit can build around. But what exactly that will look like and how productive this offense will be is a question which will only be answered in time.
How Much Can The Defense Improve?
Compared to their counterparts on the other end of the field, the Mercer defense returns a whole lot of its crucial pieces from a year ago. However, this unit was one that struggled. The Bears ended the season ranked 59th in scoring defense, allowing 13.8 goals per game. That includes three contests in which the opposition put up 20-plus goals on the Bears. Furthermore, Mercer sat in the same spot when it came to caused turnovers per game (6.67), were out ground balled 415-397 by their opponents, and ended the year sub 50% in save percentage.
Fifth-year Garrett LeClaire (23GB/20CT) and senior Wesley Chairs (23GB/15CT) are the Bears’ top two returning poles and playmakers out in front of the cage. Each being multi-year starters, they proved to be the face of the Mercer defense a season ago and should be expected to be just that again in 2023. Bishop Brent (12GB/8CT), Connor Purcell (25GB/8CT), and Drew Mayts (13GB/7CT) all return as well and should be key contributors on the back end once again. In between the pipes to anchor this unit is three-year starter Colin Kelley. Last spring, he made 182 saves with a 48.8% save percentage.
Heading into the 2023 season, Mercer has a lot of experience when it comes to their top-end talent on defense. But how productive or consistent that talent can be after a middle of the road showing, overall, last spring is certainly something to ponder.
Where Does Mercer Fit In the ASUN Pecking Order?
Mercer comes into the ASUN this spring. They will be making the move along with former SoCon foe Jacksonville and reuniting with other fellow conference foes Air Force and Bellarmine though the move. The likes of Utah, Robert Morris, Detroit Mercy, Cleveland State, and newly-elevated DI programs Lindenwood and Queens will also be competing against the Bears in league play.
During its SoCon years, Mercer never established itself as one of the top dogs in the conference. Although, they were relatively competitive and did make the postseason once. Now in the ASUN and up against some of those similar teams, where will Mercer fall in the league pecking order? Will they be challenging an Air Force or Bellarmine, whom they’ve gone a combined 4-23 against in history, for that fourth playoff spot? Can the progress and eventually take on the league’s top teams like Utah and Jacksonville?
Ultimately, where any teams sits in the ASUN pecking order is something that will only be revealed through getting on the field and playing ball. But where Mercer fits and what its ceiling (and floor) is in the league in the immediate future is very much an intriguing topic surrounding this program heading into 2023.
Potential Breakout Player
Khory Reid, Midfield, Senior
Serving as a second-line midfielder for the Bears last season, the Marietta native put up 11 points off nine goals and two assists. That included a two-goal game against Air Force and a career-high three-point (2G/1A) performance at Cleveland State. Look for Reid to take a step forward in 2023.
Per the Lacrosse Bucket Recruiting Database, Mercer brings in a nine-man freshman class with its 2022 recruiting efforts.