By: Jeff Uveino
“I hadn’t been on this campus in probably 26 years.”
Randy Mearns sat back in his chair, recalling his NCAA playing days with Canisius College.
Mearns, an All-American lacrosse player at Canisius from 1990-92 and the school’s all-time leading scorer, painted the gameday picture of a rainy afternoon at St. Bonaventure.
“When I was playing at Canisius, St. Bonaventure actually had a men’s NCAA lacrosse team,” Mearns remarked. “The last thing I remember was coming here to play, we lost at the back fields, and I ate bologna sandwiches.”
Little did he know that decades later, he would be put in charge of bringing lacrosse back to a school that hasn’t seen a Division I men’s program since 1993.
Mearns, a native of St. Catherines, Ontario, has spent his life around the game of lacrosse. He played in the National Lacrosse League from 1993-2002 for the Rochester Knighthawks and Buffalo Bandits. He was captain of the Knighthawks for six seasons, and captain of team Canada during the 1998 World Championship.
Mearns has served as a coach of team Canada since 2006, leading his home nation to a World Championship in 2014. He also served as head coach of his alma mater for 19 years, leading Canisius to NCAA tournament appearances in 2008 and 2012. However, after the 2017 season, the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame member saw a new opportunity arise.
“My family ended up getting a house in Ellicottville,” Mearns said. “But, when they announced that they were starting a D1 program here, I didn’t really think anything of it.”
It wasn’t until Matt Brown, associate head coach at the University of Denver and member of the Team Canada coaching staff, reached out to Mearns about the job that he started thinking about SBU.
“[Brown] told me, just so you know, Bill Tierney [head coach at Denver] put your name on a shortlist at St. Bonaventure,” said Mearns. “You’ve got to explore that.”
Mearns paused and sighed with a smile, recalling the revelation.
“I was in a situation at Canisius where I wasn’t going to be under contract,” he said. “Not that I was leaving, I just thought that I needed to explore what they were doing at SBU. I didn’t hide anything from my former institution, I just told them that I wanted to go explore this, and they said I had the opportunity to do that.”
After visiting SBU, Mearns was convinced that he could sell lacrosse in the hills of Allegany.
“When I met the staff here, it felt like a family,” Mearns said. “Everything is relationship based, and the academics are phenomenal.”
Mearns was named head coach of the St. Bonaventure men’s lacrosse team in June. His next task?
“What I knew during recruiting was because of the explosion of lacrosse, even though most Division 1 programs had their 2019 teams figured out, there were still 44,000 kids looking for a home,” said Mearns.
He remained confident throughout the recruiting process, recognizing that there are only 72 NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse teams, and there was a large amount of talent still available. Mearns’ experience in the game had also built connections that helped him find quality players.
“I spent 19 years at Canisius, so I already have great relationships with coaches from colleges, clubs and high schools,” Mearns said. “It’s just a matter of reaching out to these guys. You take advantage of the contacts that you have, and then do your own research on kids to make sure you’re bringing in ones that fit well.”
Mearns’ connections to team Canada were another recruiting help. Lacrosse has greatly expanded in the country in recent years, which is reflected by their recent World Championship victory under Mearns.
Of the 32 incoming freshmen men’s lacrosse players, nine are from Canada.
“I realized that we just needed to get the kids on campus,” said Mearns. “Once we get guys here, they understand the vision. They see the academic profile and the family-oriented culture, and it doesn’t become a hard sell.”
The Bonnies will go into the 2019 season as perhaps the youngest team in the NCAA, with a roster of 32 freshmen, one sophomore transfer and one junior transfer. They will open up competitive play on Saturday, Sept. 22, with a scrimmage against John Carroll University, a contest coach Mearns is excited about.
“We won’t know where we’re at until we play games,” he said. “But we’re going to be competitive. We have some really good lacrosse players.”
Mearns acknowledged that building up a new program is no easy task, but he has high expectations for St. Bonaventure men’s lacrosse in the near future. With the right resources, Mearns said, he wants to build the Bonnies program into a national power.
“My goal here is to evolve over the next four years,” Mearns said. “We could win a national championship. Some people might think that’s kind of crazy, but it doesn’t matter what anyone else believes.”
Mearns is bringing his decorated lacrosse background to SBU and is ready to put in the work to build this program up into what he thinks could be a perennial power.
“We haven’t earned anything,” Mearns said. “We have to be humble and work our tails off. Everybody has their own individual goals, and as a coaching staff it’s our job to provide all the resources and mentorship we can to help our guys start to realize those goals.”