After becoming the all-time leading scorer in Florida lacrosse history, the West Orange High alum hopes to make some noise as a member of the Syracuse lacrosse team.
In the pantheon of lacrosse, no program stands taller than that of Syracuse University.
For aspiring collegiate players across the country, including West Orange alum Mikey Berkman, an offer to play for the Orange is like hitting the lottery — especially for a kid who grew up loving ‘Cuse lacrosse.
When he arrived in Syracuse, New York, in August, the reality of the situation didn’t quite sink in. The game he had loved all of his life had led him to this crucial point, and it all felt like a dream of sorts.
Until he stepped into the lacrosse facilities.
“It all really sets in when you go into the locker room and see your name in your locker, with gear and your stick — that’s when it really comes to your mind that this is actually happening,” Berkman said. “You get your schedule and you dive in right away.”
Going into his second semester, Berkman has had time to adjust to his new life more than 1,200 miles away from his home in West Orange. But he is adapting to the new life — and the differences from West Orange.
When you play on the collegiate level — especially with a program that expects to win national titles — things tend to be even more intense.
On a team like Syracuse, there are no scrubs; there are only high-quality players who live and die for the sport.
“It all really sets in when you go into the locker room and see your name in your locker, with gear and your stick — that’s when it really comes to your mind that this is actually happening."
— Mikey Berkman
“Everyone on the team from top-to-bottom, bottom-to-up is just an elite lacrosse player,” Berkman said. “They’re great athletes, they’re smart, they’re physical, they’re fast — there’s just not one weak link to go against in practice, so everyone is always making each other better. It’s way different than high-school lacrosse.”
And that’s not where the differences stop for Berkman. His role has changed pretty drastically from when he was a Warrior. In his time at West Orange, Berkman was an unstoppable force at the attackman position and a trustworthy leader for his team.
His offense was so explosive that by the time he graduated, Berkman had become the all-time leader in points (484) and assists in Florida high-school lacrosse history, as well as the all-time leader in goals. In fact, he is the first and only Florida high-school lacrosse player to record more than 200 goals and 200 assists in a career.
“There are certain kinds of attackman on a team, but the kind of attackman I was throughout my high-school career was kind of like a point guard — penetrating the defense, passing and scoring — not just shooting and not just finishing,” Berkman said.
That said, going from the role of “go-to guy” to a freshman on a roster stacked with some of the country’s best talent has been no easy feat, Berkman said.
“At the beginning, it was a little bit difficult, because you’re used to being that guy,” he said. “But after you learn the offense and people’s tendencies, you come to realize that everyone on the team has a role. It’s really not about being the best player at practice and showing out everyone. It’s about playing your role and getting better every day. You just have to find your role and find your niche and help the team — that’s all that really matters.”
Berkman is quickly finding his niche at Syracuse, but it’s only a small aspect of what drives the freshman. Although he was introduced to the sport around the fourth grade thanks to his dad — who, along with his mom, are from upstate New York — it was never easy playing a sport that falls pretty low in popularity in Florida.
Although lacrosse thrives the strongest in the northeast region of the country, it often plays the proverbial second fiddle here in Florida behind football, baseball, basketball and others. Despite killing it at the high-school level, the simple fact he was playing in a non-traditional lacrosse state led to many doubters early.
“A lot of people told me I would never play college lacrosse,” Berkman said. “You just have to keep working hard and anything can happen.”
Those doubters were left in the dust long ago, as Berkman has found his calling on the lacrosse field. And at this rate, there’s a good chance that in four years — after a few possible national titles — he could be playing at the professional level.
In the meantime, Berkman and the Syracuse lacrosse team have a lot to get ready for now, which includes a season opener against Colgate Friday, Feb. 8.
“I’m just looking forward to our first game day,” Berkman said. “Winning that and then going week by week, taking it one game at a time and stacking victories to reach our end goal — winning a championship.”