Written By: Topher Adams, August 25th 2020 (IMG: Onondaga CC)
College lacrosse is filled with dominant programs. Maryland’s men and women teams are consistently in the final 4, Syracuse won title after title in the late 80s, and now Yale has emerged as a perennial title challenger. But if you look beneath the surface of NCAA lacrosse, you can find another program who’s dominance is almost unfathomable. That program is Onondaga Community College. Over the last 15 years, the junior college (JUCO) located in Syracuse, NY has become the most consistently dominant program in all of college lacrosse and is the unparalleled king in modern JUCO lacrosse.
If you’re not from New York or not an obsessive lacrosse fanatic, you might not know about junior college lacrosse. The NJCAA (National Junior College Athletics Association) started in men’s lacrosse 50 years ago in 1970. As of 2020, there are only 21 teams spread across 4 divisions, all located in the northeast (primarily NY and NJ). The amount of teams may be small, but the number of champions is even smaller. Only 5 teams have ever been crowned champions, including the great dynasty of Nassau CC who have won an astonishing 21 titles. While Nassau are the historic kings and continue to be successful, Onondaga CC have emerged as the new titans of Junior College lacrosse.
Onondaga competed in the 80s and 90s, but were never a real contender, never even making the championship tournament. However, following a program restart in 2001, they have been one of the greatest athletic programs in all of college sports. The administration, especially then president Dr. Debbie Sydow and then athletic director Bob McKenney, had a vision to use sports to grow the college, and men’s lacrosse played a big part in that. They entrusted a young coach and former JUCO star Chuck Wilbur to take charge of the lacrosse project, a decision that has payed dividends for the college.
“It all comes down to administrative support. They believed in me,” said Wilbur of the administration that let him build his program. When Wilbur inherited the restarted program in 2002, he was a still very young and wasn’t neccisarily expecting a coaching career. “I was young man just getting out of college and wasn’t really thinking of becoming a college coach …I knew what juco lacrosse did for me and I was excited to help some young men trying to make it,” said Wilbur, who still works at Onondaga in the athletic department, helping with recruiting and moving players on.
In his time at OCC, he compiled a 266-15 record, including 11 national titles and a 106-game winning streak from 2010 to 2016, the longest such streak in college lacrosse history. Not only do they win at an unbelievable rate, they typically win by wide margins, including a 445-80 scoring margin for the 2007 campaign (an undefeated championship season). This ridiculous success is a testament to the program that has been built at Onondaga, and a lot of credit goes to the recruiting.
The talent that has gone through OCC since 2002 is unbelievable. The amount of alumni who have become high-level professional players rivals D1 programs, especially when it comes to box lacrosse players. Onondaga has done an excellent job of recruiting and developing Canadian and Haudenosaunee players, many of whom have become National Lacrosse League (NLL) stars. Cody Jamieson, Austin Staats, and Jeremy Thompson all spent time at OCC before becoming professional stars.
Like most junior college programs, Onondaga has been a bastion of hope for players with few other chances. One such player was Shayne Jackson. The Ontario native wasn’t recruited out of high school and found an opportunity in Syracuse at OCC.
“I had an awesome experience…it was a really enjoyable 2 years of my life,” said Jackson of his time at Onondaga. Like many Canadian players, Jackson had limited experience in field lacrosse and was able to grow at OCC. “It helped me immensely. I was still very new to the field game and playing with some of those guys,” said Jackson, “and having Nick Gatto there to help the attack helped a lot,” (Gatto is the all-time leading scorer at Onondaga and still works in the athletic department). His time at Onondaga helped elevate him from a complete unknown to an NJCAA All-American and then onto an excellent career at Limestone University before becoming an elite player in both Major League Lacrosse (MLL) and the NLL, where he won the 2020 MVP Award.
Few programs in all of sports have been as consistently impressive as Onondaga Community College Men’s Lacrosse. Their titles, successful alumni, and records speak for themselves, but it all stems back from the universities mission to use sports to grow the school. Coach Wilbur believes that the program has been incredibly beneficial, saying, “I think the lacrosse team helped our college grow to all time enrollment numbers in 2008-2012 time frame . It brought great notoriety, and school pride.” The administration, Coach Wilbur and Coach Eric Miccio (who took over as head coach in 2019), and all the players who’ve donned a Lazers uniform have brought a relatively unknown junior college in Syracuse, NY to the forefront of the lacrosse world. They may not be the flashiest school, but Onondaga CC has forever etched themselves in lacrosse history as one of the greatest programs of all time.