Lacrosse athlete Juggled Between Four Colleges Before Becoming a Maverick


The lacrosse player and owner of the No. 88 jersey did not think he would ever be transferring and living in New York.

Before he transferred to Mercy, Zack Higgins went to Hartford University, where he would still be attending if it wasn’t for a financial issue its lacrosse team faced.

According to him, athletic teams were becoming too expensive to maintain, and the university decided to shift from a D-1 school to a D-III school due to declining enrollment after COVID-19. Players began to look to transfer and find other options.

“It was hell, and I was tired of jumping around schools,” said Higgins.

The University of Hartford did not have enough players to meet its conference requirements and did not play any games in the spring of 2022. Its team page on the university website’s last post was in January.

Having shuffled between several colleges and towns, Higgins finally settled at Mercy, to what felt like starting over as a freshman.

When he heard from other teammates that Mercy College had a lacrosse team, he didn’t hesitate to make the transfer.

The Pennsylvania native, who left his hometown in search of a bigger city, didn’t expect to make such a drastic change from Lehigh Valley to The Empire State as a college student.

He carries the legacy of a National Lacrosse Championship during his freshman year of college at Onondaga Community College. His family was there to witness his team score a winning goal at the last minute of overtime, and what followed was a sky full of sticks and other lacrosse equipment, what Higgins best described as a “confetti celebration.”

His passion for lacrosse started early, at eight years old, he would have catches with his father in their backyard. It was a thrilling kind of different as he was discovering a new sport and a new way to bond with his father and they were learning together.

The thrill never goes away he says, and every time he hits the field, it’s always a great feeling – not more, not less. That’s Higgins, his mellow personality is what keeps him grounded.

“It’s a big stress reliever for me, once I’m playing everything that goes on along the course of the day I can just forget about.”

For many, mental health and sports can be a tough battle to balance but fortunately for Higgins, when he steps on the field, he knows everything will be okay.

Lacrosse is his safe haven.

“I don’t get the highs or the lows, but lacrosse brings something out of me that feels very different.”

Higgins admits that his awareness of his mental well-being only began after reaching adulthood. He credits his roommate for being outspoken, and famous athletes for opening up about such a sensitive yet necessary topic.

“I didn’t realize I had mental health struggles until people started talking about it, and then I started thinking back to my life and things that I have been through.”

However, he feels fortunate to have always had an excellent support system from his family, growing up in a house that never punished him for showing emotions.

Mental health is a topic that can be much harder for male athletes to be open about, he feels, as he believes the stereotypical male attitude towards athletes is the reason behind it. Playing sports from a very young age, he said coaches and teammates would often say “you got to be tough,” and “strong-willed.”

“I think that’s true, but at the same time, there’s nothing wrong with not being okay,” said Higgins.

He recounts having his battles with anxiety and depression as something he doesn’t like to talk about, not because it makes him feel uncomfortable but because he doesn’t want to minimize other people’s struggles.

“It’s something I’ve gotten used to living with it without even realizing I was living with it, but when I play lacrosse or play sports, even just talking about sports is a big stress reliever for me.”

A feeling that helps him escape.

“It takes me out of the real world for a minute. I’m out of everything, and I can just do my thing.”

The lacrosse team is current 9-1 (4-0 in the ECC) and ranked No. 5 nationally. Its most recent win was a 21-10 victory over the University of the District of Columbia on April 16 in which Higgins had a goal.

The team has a high-powered offense this season. Graduate student Dominic Scorcia leads the team with 30 goals and 12 assists for 42 total points. Brady Kearnan has 23 goals and 18 assists and senior Jack Gibbons has 15 goals and nine assists. T.J. Heyder, Matt Eccles and Andrew Calabria all have double-digit goals as well. Goalkeeper Tommy Umano has 72 saves thus far this season.

Transferring between different schools and towns in a short period was a stressful period for Higgins, and he doesn’t blame the school or teammates, only blames his mental well-being, which quickly rebounded as soon as he started practice over the fall.

“In those two hours, I never had a problem, I felt normal. So lacrosse helps, it really helps.”

To Higgins, it also helps to have a supportive coach, Jordan Levine, who recently recorded his 100th career win in his tenth year as head coach at Mercy.

“He’s awesome. He’s unlike any coach I have ever played for. It’s pretty remarkable. He’s our guy. He’s a pleasure to play for and a great leader.”

Higgins described Levine as a great leader who lets the team police themselves.

“He knows we have to handle our business and go to class, put in the effort during practice, and put extra effort in the gym and the field, and he has been so successful over the past, he knows what he’s doing for sure.”

With a successful team and coach, the pressure to give his best performance is present at every game.

“We have a lot of good guys on our team, so sometimes playing time for everybody isn’t distributed how everyone wants it to be, a lot of guys want to be playing more, and that’s where the pressure comes from.”

When players give their best performance, they get more time on the field, and if they don’t play so well during a game, they see less time, according to Higgins.

“We have confidence that we can make a win whenever we want to, it’s more about just proving it to our coach that we can do it, so he can let us play more.”

Despite all the pressure he has adjusted as a full-time student and full-time athlete, Higgins said it is all manageable, making time for himself, whether it is to hang out with friends, and teammates or just read a good non-fiction book.

“I try finding time for myself all the time, I love to read, and I read almost every day. It’s something I like to do before games too, I feel like it mellows me out before a game starts.”

This summer, he will be working as a lacrosse coach in Oklahoma, checking a goal off his bucket list, which includes traveling and experiencing as much as possible.

“The team I’m coaching has its tournaments in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Seattle, and Washington DC, all over the country. I want to go and experience those places for myself and do things on my own and experience it all.”

It’s safe for him to say he has found his home at Mercy as a Maverick until he graduates and moves on to conquer the other dreams on his list.

“I want to be a journalist one way or another. I hope it takes me everywhere. That’s the dream.”