College Hoops

Mercyhurst University ascends to Division I, joins NEC

Mercyhurst University ascends to Division I, joins NEC

With the Northeast Conference losing Merrimack and Sacred Heart from an already shrunk-down nine-team league, commissioner Noreen Morris has been put in a bind. The first move to offset this was adding Chicago State University, who is expected to be an instant contender in men’s basketball.

The second move was announced Thursday, as Mercyhurst University of the Division II Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference will transition to Division I and the NEC for the 2024-25 academic year.

The athletic teams at MU are known as the Lakers, as the campus sits just under three miles from the shores of Lake Erie in the city of Erie, Penn. Mercyhurst is now the only Division I school in Erie or the Erie metro area, a region with a population of over 280,000 people.

Already a Division I program in men’s and women’s ice hockey, Mercyhurst’s athletic program is a bustling enterprise that sponsors 26 sports, including football.

The Lakers’ men’s basketball team went 15-16 this past season and 11-11 in the PSAC, tying for 5th place in the West Division. However, this was just the first time since 2018 that Mercyhurst did not make the NCAA Division II Tournament. Over the previous five seasons, the Lakers went 108-31, winning 25 games three different times and not losing more than eight.

Head coach Gary Manchel will enter his 22nd season at the helm in 2024-25 as the unquestioned most successful coach in the Division II era of Laker basketball. Known for his stingy defenses that have ranked in the top 10 of Division II in points per game 10 times, he has won the most games of any coach in Mercyhurst history. In February of this season, he won his 500th career game, which includes his nine seasons at the helm of UMass Lowell back when the River Hawks were a Division II program.

Leading scorer Jeff Planutis, who averaged 17.4 points per game this past season, has exhausted his eligibility. Aidan Reichert will see an increase in his responsibility, as he averaged 12 points and a team-leading 6.4 rebounds per game in 2023-24.

Mercyhurst women’s basketball hasn’t been quite as successful, but is a program on the rise with back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since the mid-90’s. Head coach Brooklyn Kohlheim will enter her sixth season at the helm when November rolls around.

Like other transitioning Division I programs, Mercyhurst will not be eligible to compete in the NCAA Tournament within its first four years at the level. In the NEC,…

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