The 2019 NJCAA District D Championship game came down to a last-second shot that sailed wide last Saturday. While Mercer County (NJ) held on and advanced to its first-ever national tournament in its inaugural season of competition, a moment after the game proved bigger than any title-clinching celebration.
Mercer County's Cameron Potts and Ocean County's Shawn Poole endured a grueling 60-minute contest that saw the Vikings top Ocean County 11-10 on May 4. A thrilling finish would have been enough to spark a sportsmanship-like conversation between the two sides, but it was a mutual passion for civic duty that brought Potts and Poole together. Both student-athletes who met for the first time following the game currently serve their country as active members of the United States Army.
Potts serves as a Specialist with the 411th Civil Affairs Battalion and is currently drilling as a reservist. An upcoming berth in the national tournament is just a minor fragment of what lies ahead for the freshman from Ewing, NJ. On May 30th, Potts will deploy to Africa to help support the stabilization in the Horn of Africa. The Mercer County program anticipates a return from Potts for his sophomore season in hopes of building on a historical freshman campaign.
"I have been coaching lacrosse for 17 years, and Cameron is one of the most coachable and hardest working young men I have ever had the opportunity to coach," stated Mercer County head coach Rob Siris. "He is a remarkable young man. Everyone on our team respects his commitment to the Army, his academics, and the team."
Poole, a member of the 465th Transportation Company, showed up to Saturday's contest in military uniform after coming straight from battle assembly and caught the attention of Siris. An introduction of the two following the thrilling finish proved there was more to take out of the contest than just the end result.
"Balancing between school, lacrosse, and the Army is difficult," Poole noted. "I always have to show my highest standards, being a leader, all while doing everything on time."
A leader on the field who was identified immediately as a captain for the Viking's initial endeavor in the NJCAA lacrosse realm, Potts would not have had the opportunity to pursue college lacrosse had Mercer County's program never been ignited.
Potts echoed Poole's mentality of juggling multiple facets of life as an active service member. "Balancing school, lacrosse, and the Army wasn't easy. A lot of times I had to do my military duties and missed games. It was tough not being there with the team for those games, but I knew that the coaches and my teammates supported me and my service."
"As I move on from this 2019 lacrosse season I am a little sad, but mostly excited," Potts added. "Sad to be leaving my family and friends behind but excited for the new opportunity the Army has presented ahead of me. An opportunity to make a difference and help people."
Poole's time at Ocean County spanned two seasons and left a lasting impact to the entire institution. "As a student-athlete, Shawn was a leader and a steadying force for our men's lacrosse team, both on and off the field for two years," stated Ocean County Executive Director of Athletics Ilene Cohen. "As an active service member, his dedication to civic duty is a great inspiration, and I couldn't be prouder of him. We're going to miss Shawn in our OCC Athletics family, and we wish him every success as he moves forward."
With goals of becoming a State Trooper or joining the Army full-time, Poole pointed to his time at OCC as an opportunity for future success. "The professors at OCC have helped push me academically towards my career path, criminal justice. Lacrosse has pushed me to do well in school. If I did poorly in courses I wouldn't be able to play, which keeps me motivated."
"While you will often hear 'yes coach' from players, his words are constantly reinforced by his actions," Ocean County head coach Matt Zuech added. "He is an outstanding teammate and serves as one of our team captains, a role in which he has time and again demonstrated his leadership on and off the field. While he is an outstanding player, he is even finer a young man. He currently serves his country as a reservist and has been able to handle that, working, playing, and an academic load."
Mercer County's national tournament berth presents another similar feat between the two service members as Poole helped lead Ocean County to a tournament appearance in 2018.
As Potts and his Viking teammates embark on the program's first national tournament appearance on Saturday, last week's meeting of the two active service members will leave a lasting impact that goes beyond wins and losses.
No. 6 Mercer County travels to No. 3 Onondaga at 3:00 PM ET Saturday for the opening round of the NJCAA Lacrosse Championship in Syracuse, NY.