Rob Siris is an expert on at least two things.
How to build a program and understanding how necessary it is to have more collegiate lacrosse teams in New Jersey.
It makes him the perfect fit to establish the new men’s program at Mercer County Community College.
In 14 years as head coach at Hopewell Valley Central High School, Siris more than doubled the participation on the boys’ team en route to winning 162 games, five conference championships and two Mercer County titles.
He has taken his skills to MCCC, which is currently participating in a non-competitive intramural season this spring to prepare for full-fledged National Junior College Athletic Association play next year. Siris has no concerns about procuring players, noting that the supply of talent is wealthy considering the dearth of opposing coaches recruiting it.
“When I graduated high school in 1996, there were 80 teams in New Jersey, now there are well over 200 high school teams,” said Siris, whose Vikings will play on the lighted turf soccer field. “During that time, there’s only been a handful more college teams formed. What young players don’t realize, and the statistics are clear, is 90 percent of high school lacrosse players will not play in college. There’s a big demand, so I think we’re able to fill that demand.”
Siris was a four-time Colonial Valley Conference Coach of the Year and is currently the U.S. Lacrosse Central New Jersey chairman. He took the job because it is a new challenge that also allows him to maintain his position as an HVCHS Social Studies teacher. He strengthened the Hopewell connection by hiring Timberlane math teacher Matt Serfass as his assistant after seven years as a Bulldogs assistant.
And, of course, there are several HVCHS graduates on the team and more to come. Joe Immordino, Curtis Martin and Cameron Gomez all transferred from other schools and are participating in the spring season. Martin and Immordino are uncertain if they will be back next year, as it depends on several factors. But Gomez, an interesting case, plans on returning.
Gomez played middle school lacrosse in Pennsylvania’s Council Rock school district. He moved to Hopewell in 10th grade but played football and hoped to remain on the gridiron at Christopher Newport College after graduating in 2016. When that didn’t work out, he moved to Florida last spring. Upon returning, he heard about MCCC lacrosse and jumped at the chance.
“Just coming back to the school and being part of a team again is amazing,” Gomez said. “I knew (Siris) was a great coach from everything I heard from the other guys, and he coached some really great teams. He made everyone better. And he’s helping me out a lot getting back into the game. He’s definitely the right guy to start this program. He loves lacrosse and he just knows the game.”
An incoming recruit for next year is Bulldogs senior defensive-midfielder James Grundy, who spent three years under Siris. Grundy wanted to stay local but his only option was club lacrosse at The College of New Jersey. He was impressed by Mercer’s facilities and excited by their transfer program, which offers significant discounts when transferring to certain New Jersey four-year schools.
And, of course, there was the coaches.
“I’ve had coach Siris and coach Serfass since the beginning,” Grundy said. “I’ve never had a problem with either of them. Coach Siris was a goalie but he knows about all the positions. Coach Serfass was always good with conditioning and defense. I think they’re a good fit.”
Siris’s main focus has been on recruiting. He currently has 23 players at spring practice. He estimates 15 will return for the fall season and he will bring in 15 newcomers. While his main focus is on Mercer County players, he has been pleasantly surprised by the interest shown from Middlesex and Burlington counties, along with Philadelphia and Maryland. He was even contacted by a Wisconsin resident.
Mercer currently has players either on the roster or coming in next year from Hightstown, Allentown, Ewing, Hamilton West, Nottingham, Lawrence and both West Windsor-Plainsboros. He noted, however, that there are 60 high school programs within a 25-mile radius around the West Windsor campus.
“I’ve been very clear with people that if everything is equal and it comes down to a Mercer County or Burlington County kid we will take the Mercer county kid,” Siris said. “But it doesn’t always work out that way.”
Indeed, MCCC’s national power soccer team has players from around the world and the baseball team, which reached the World Series last spring, has players from numerous counties around the state. Twitter and Facebook have helped the cause.
“A big piece of the recruiting landscape has been social media and sharing with people there is a program, and a lot of it is communicating with players and parents about the value of a junior college lacrosse experience and what that can lead to with the transfer opportunities,” Siris said. “What I wasn’t anticipating was how many four-year schools have already reached out to me about taking junior college transfers. All along Division I rosters you’ll find JUCO transfers. That’s something else we can offer these kids; the chance to move on and play for four years.”
This spring, however, it’s all back to basics.
“Our practices have been about fitness,” Siris said. “We’ve had pretty good practices, right now it’s just skill development and getting them to understand our system and who the other guys are they are playing with.”
Gomez feels things are running smoothly, saying, “The team is definitely growing, we’re all getting closer. Practices are pretty good, we’re working a lot with stick drills, speed and agility, getting work on the field. Most of us played in high school and we’re getting everyone back in shape.”
The long-range goal for Siris is simple.
“Our goal is to turn lacrosse into baseball and soccer,” he said. “Anyone that follows baseball or follows soccer, knows about Mercer County Community College. That’s the vision.”