Here are some schedule highlights and games of note:
The Build to the Peak
February 7: at Boston University; February 10: at Detroit; February 15: Duke; February 24: Siena; March 8: Marquette
Mercer will play five regular season games before embarking on the Southern Conference portion of its schedule, a six-game push that stands as the most important portion of the Bears' 12-game regular season slate. Given the heightened value of the team's league campaign -- the Southern Conference provides not only a launch pad to the NCAA Tournament for Mercer but also an opportunity to gain an extra game or two of competition in 2015, valuable moments to build upon as the Bears continue to develop their Division I reality -- the team's progress toward mid-March is decidedly important: Featuring 31 freshmen or sophomores on the team's roster (that's almost three quarters of Mercer's roster holding underclass certification), the Bears are going to need to find their volition before things start to accelerate in the NCAA's newest lacrosse concern (even with the team returning six starters and 26 letterwinners from last spring). With only four seniors and seven juniors to show the way for Mercer, the Bears will have a short one-month competition period to find their legs and the bearing. This is not easy for a program that took important steps forward in 2014.
February 7: at Boston University; February 10: at Detroit; March 8: Marquette; March 14: High Point; March 21: Furman; March 18: Jacksonville; April 25: at Richmond
Mercer -- itself having played only four seasons of Division I competition -- will face seven teams in 2015 with six seasons or fewer of play at college lacrosse's highest level. Those are seven opportunities of varying degrees of complexity, each pitting the Bears against a program that entered Division I at or around the same period as Mercer. Rightly or wrongly, the Bears' growth is partially measured against its peer group in terms of when programs were founded, and Mercer's performance in these games will shape the focus around where the Bears are in the context of the landscape to which it inhabits.
Exacerbating the influence of these dates is that there are layered consequences in many of them: High Point, Furman, Jacksonville, and Richmond are Southern Conference affairs, games that the Bears need to create a May adventure; Boston University and Detroit come at the sunrise of the team's season, games that Mercer will need to come correct in order to platform the team well as their campaign unfolds; and Marquette comes at a tricky point in the calendar, occurring a week before the Bears start their league season and a week after a bye. With over half of the team's 2015 schedule featuring "like" competition, Mercer can make its own fun or struggle into the unknown.