Weight Lifted Off St. Bonaventure's Shoulders After First Division I Victory


Austin Blumbergs had three goals and three assists in the Bonnies' first-ever Division I win.

Randy Mearns could see the difference Sunday morning. In his third season as coach of St. Bonaventure’s start-up program, there was a buoyancy flowing from his still-young roster reflective of a major milestone.

A day earlier, the Bonnies beat Quinnipiac 13-6.

“It was quite apparent,” Mearns said. “You could kind of tell a little bit of that weight had been lifted off the shoulders. There was a little more confidence in the guys just because we actually won a game at the Division I level.”

It’s the first of what Mearns and St. Bonaventure hope are many more as one of Division I’s most intriguing recent additions continues to develop. Some schools choose to lean heavily on an already existing club team when they introduce men’s lacrosse. Some attract a bunch of transfers, from both junior colleges and four-year schools, to fill their rankings.

Mearns, hired in 2017 after a 19-year run at Canisius, went with freshmen. Lots and lots of freshmen — a 34-man class in his first season, to be precise. The results were predictable for the Bonnies, who previously had a Division III program from 1989-93.

“We wanted to play a little more of the long game and said, ‘Let’s bring in freshmen,’ knowing we were going to take some lumps,” Mearns said. “We did. After that first year, some guys decided to leave, and we filled the gaps. We got better players that next year to fill the holes. With COVID, we kind of felt we were on the verge to compete to win by the time we got into our conference last year. Then, obviously, everybody went home.”

The remaining 20 from the Bonnies’ first class form the foundation of a team that went 0-13 in 2019, then lost its first six games a year ago. They’re guys like Sean Westley, who had two goals and two assists in Saturday’s opener. And they’re guys like Brett Dobson, who made 13 starts over the Bonnies’ first two seasons and had 14 saves Saturday against Quinnipiac.

They’re guys like Austin Blumbergs, who Mearns uses as an example in the program’s recruiting presentation on Zoom. Blumbergs arrived on Olean as a 6-foot, 170-pounder. Two-and-a-half years later, he’s 6-2, 195 pounds, both savvier and a tough cover, as evidenced by his three goals and three assists in the opener.

“We’re all now 25 pounds more of muscle,” Mearns said. “We’re bigger, we’re faster, we’re more experienced, we’re more organized.”

The Bonnies enjoy two of the best assets any college sports program could hope for: Support and geography. St. Bonaventure added men’s lacrosse with the plan to fully fund it over its first four years and delivered. The Bonnies had six scholarships in 2019, added two in both of the last two years and will get to the full complement of 12.6 in this recruiting cycle.

Location helps, too. St. Bonaventure is about 75 miles from Buffalo and well-positioned to create a Canadian pipeline. Mearns, a former star and coach for the Canadian national team, is a logical guy to do just that. The Bonnies’ roster includes nine Canadians, but there are also players from Arizona, California, Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin.

It’s also an ambitious group, another major component of developing a program.

“The vast majority of guys on our roster are juniors and sophomores and freshmen, and the end game for them is actually either playing in the National Lacrosse League or now playing in the PLL,” Mearns said. “That’s the goal, and that’s the end game. You have to work on that every day. You have some naysayers that say, ‘You can’t do that,’ but it doesn’t matter what anyone else believes. It matters how much work you’re going to put into that.”

While the chance to celebrate a victory was a first for St. Bonaventure, so was the process of managing a response to that success. The Bonnies’ eight-game schedule against only Metro Atlantic opponents continues Saturday at Detroit, and last week’s victory doesn’t guarantee another.

“It’s one game,” Mearns said. “We have to be prepared for Detroit, and guess what? Detroit also has video of what we just did. So, hey, it isn’t going to be that easy next time, not that it was easy. We want to continue to get better, and we have to continue to evolve. If we’re just going to rest our hats on, ‘We won our first game,’ well, then it’s going to be a long season.”

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