MACON, Ga. — In case you missed it, the big screen at Five Star Stadium this week will let you know: “2022 Big South Women’s Lacrosse Champions” is proudly displayed.
But when it comes to expectations for the Mercer Bears as they get set for another trip to the NCAA Tournament, a conference title alone just isn’t going to cut it anymore.
“I mean it would be everything,” senior Shannon Urey said of advancing past the first round in this year’s NCAA Tournament. “We’ve been working for it for four years now and every time we’ve gotten a little bit closer so I think this year is the year.”
The message from Mercer: just making the big dance is no longer enough. The Bears have appeared in the NCAA Tournament four times before but also in that stretch – four losses.
“Being able to prove our success and talent every year is something we treasure and I think this year we’re going to get a little further than last year,” Urey said. “Just very proud of every success.”
For the third straight year, the Bears will head to Gainesville, Florida where the Gators host another regional, but it won’t be a third straight meeting with UF.
Mercer drew Notre Dame in the first round – maybe the biggest joy of all on Selection Sunday.
“I think we’ve played on that field like, five times already so we know the terrain, love the sunny weather,” Urey said.
“We were more excited to not be playing Florida,” head coach Samantha Eustace said. “I think when a team has worked so hard and had such a great year, you want to be able to play somebody new and different. Obviously they play in the ACC we’ve watched a lot of film on them. They’re fast and athletic. But just like a lot of teams have done with us this year, we get overlooked a whole lot.”
Getting overlooked? The Bears are just fine with it.
17-2 on the year. A perfect conference season. And now, the knowledge, experience and bond to be much more than just a one-and-done.
“The team chemistry is just unmatched this year with 17 seniors and super-seniors,” Urey said. “Just being able to have that bond for four-plus years is honestly exceptional. Most of us are out on the field together so that’s just been amazing.”
So what’s it going to take on Friday night in the swamp?
“We’re going to have to play the best lacrosse that we’ve played this year,” Eustace said.
But playing their best lacrosse is kind of all the Bears know how to do.
Mercer (17-2, 9-0) faces Notre Dame (13-5, 6-3) on Friday night at 7 p.m. in Gainesville. The match will be televised on ESPN Plus.