Early Prominence: Jaspers Lacrosse’s Young Program Contains a Rich History

By Andrew Mannion, Staff Writer

Building up a lacrosse program in the NCAA is no simple feat, especially at the Division I level. Manhattan lacrosse has used each year of its time going from a team that joined Division I not even a quarter century ago, to the team that is now at the top of the MAAC. 

The team started in 1877, when Manhattan participated in the first collegiate game of lacrosse ever. They squared off against the New York University Violets on Nov. 22, 1877. The Violets had a movement within the school that led to them including more athletic activities.

According to an article written by Lexi Echelman of NYU Alumni Connect,“Lacrosse at New York University was established in 1878, when the relationship between sports and college life as we know it today was a relatively uncommon phenomenon … According to Ferris, students at that time were almost exclusively focused on their education, as opposed to social or athletic pursuits. While student life did exist in the form of literary debate societies, none of these satisfied Ferris’ need for ‘muscular activities.”

About 119 years later, Manhattan Lacrosse entered Division I in 1996 as a member of the MAAC conference. Manhattan’s first recorded season was in 1997-98, the Jaspers were 1-1 with one loss against Southampton and a win against SUNY Maritime. The following season, they went 3-12 without winning a home game. 23 years later, the Jaspers are at the top of the MAAC after winning the 2022 MAAC Championship.  

However, those 22 seasons in between were not easy as the Jaspers have been led by four different head coaches. Tim McIntee coached the Jaspers through the 2012 season, who was then replaced by Steve Manita, who coached the Jaspers from 2013 to 2015. 

Drew Keleher then took over until last season, when the Jaspers won the MAAC Championship. This year, John Ordierna will begin his first season as the head coach of last year’s winners. 

“I think turnover is like a rejuvenation,” said Reilly. “I always think when there’s a vacancy, there’s an opportunity to grow and change.”

No matter what, Marianne Reilly, athletic director at MC, believes that these changes are key to building a successful program.

 “When you look at Manhattan College, we recruit really good people to work here. What’s going to happen if they have any success? They’re going to get moved,” Reilly said.

Despite the team’s success last season, Odierna believes there is more to gain for the program. 

“Manhattan Lacrosse is still a relatively young program in the DI landscape,” Odierna said. “Everyone that has played here at both the club and DI levels has been part of establishing our reputation as a tough, chip on our shoulder type of program. Coming off winning the MAAC Championship in 2022, I believe that our program prestige is at an all time high and there is a lot of excitement about Manhattan Lacrosse right now.”

Most importantly, the new head coach acknowledges that a team’s success can’t happen without the right people. Odierna remarks on what makes a program successful over time and what he and the program can do to make Manhattan College lacrosse even better.

“I believe that a lacrosse program’s success can be measured by the type of people that you have and the culture that you create,” Odierna said. “If you can build a program of great people, you’ll likely have success on and off the field. We want to compete for MAAC Championships but also want to have leaders in the community that are built for life when they leave Manhattan College and become representatives for our program in the real world. We can achieve (a better program) over time by continuing to build our program culture around a group of guys that are passionate about making Manhattan a destination to play college lacrosse.”

While Manhattan’s lacrosse team’s success story is just beginning, they have made themselves known across the Division I level. Even with another MAAC Championship under their belt, they believe there is much more to be accomplished.