By Clayton Collier
When Middle Country’s Zach Harned headed to the locker room following his final career high school game, a 17-1 first-round loss to the No. 1-seeded Northport, the senior attack could take solace in the fact that his lacrosse career would not end that afternoon.
Harned will continue playing when he attends the University of Tampa this fall, competing for the Spartans at the Division II level. The Middle Country captain said he has had his eye on Tampa for some time.
“Ever since I was in tenth grade I had my eye on Tampa because I knew they were an upcoming team who was going to competitively compete at the Division II level,” he said. “Once I talked to the coaches and got to know them it made everything so much easier. I feel I could grow even more as a player there and hopefully help them compete for a national championship.”
The 2015 All-County selectee’s achievements go beyond the playing field. Harned was named an Academic All-American and was awarded the Eric Sopracasa Memorial Scholarship, awarded to an athlete who “through determination and character serves as a role model and inspiration to fellow athletes.” The scholarship is given in memory of Sopracasa, who died after being struck in the chest by a lacrosse ball during practice in 1999.
“He’s the epitome of a Middle Country athlete,” athletic director Joseph Mercado said of Harned. “He’s a hard worker and truly dedicated in everything he does on and off the field.”
Middle Country boys’ lacrosse head coach Ken Budd echoed Mercado’s sentiments.
“He plays bigger than he is,” Budd said. “He’s not very big in stature, but definitely presents himself bigger on the field. He’s a two-year captain; he’s a leader on and off the field. He definitely draws the best defensemen, he’s our quarterback on offense and we’re definitely going to miss him.”
This is the second Harned in as many years to move on to collegiate lacrosse. Zach’s brother Dylan recently completed his freshman season as a member of the LIU Post lacrosse program.
“Dylan set a good example for his brother to follow,” Budd said. “Having back-to-back years of Harneds is a good thing. It’s a blessing.”
Harned will play for NCAA lacrosse Division II’s winningest coach, Rory Whipple. Having previous coaching stints at Clarkson University, Hartwick College, Bryant University and University of South Florida, dating back to 1980, Whipple became the Spartans’ first head coach in 2012. Through the program’s first four years of existence, Whipple has led Tampa to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons.
Whipple has high praise for Harned as both an athlete and a student.
“We’re really excited about him,” he said. “I like his character. We try to recruit kids of strong character that are strong in the classroom. He’s got great athletic ability and he’s got a great work ethic. I think he’ll be a strong Division II player for us.”
Middle Country lacrosse already has strong ties to the Tampa lacrosse program. Assistant coach Mike Massari, who played for Whipple at Hartwick in 1998, facilitated the recruiting efforts for Harned.
This will mark Tampa’s second recruit from Middle Country. Face-off specialist Trevor Calleja, who just completed his final season with the Spartans, said Harned is going to love it.
“Playing for coach Whipple was awesome,” he said. “Although he was very tough on the field, off the field he was very funny. I’ll never forget my time at Tampa and would go back and do it all again.”
It might not be long until Harned makes an impact on the Spartans squad, as Whipple said that there is a strong possibility that the Middle Country standout could start right away.
Harned’s mother, Marie, said she is thrilled for her son.
“He’s wanted this since tenth grade,” she said. “He can’t wait to go. We’re just so proud of him.”