HARTSVILLE, S.C. –  Before even stepping onto a Cobra playing field, Steven Zolezzi’s name is in the record books of Coker College athletics.

Zolezzi, a midfielder from Lindenhurst, N.Y., is the first player to sign an National Letter of Intent (NLI) to play for the Cobras’ first lacrosse team.

“It is an honor to be the first lacrosse signee in Coker history,” Zolezzi said. “I have had to work very hard to get where I am, and signing the national letter of intent to play for Coker shows that all the hard work is finally paying off.”

“I expect Steven to do great things both athletically and academically during his career at Coker College,” said Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach Tony Smith. “He is exactly the kind of player that will help make Coker lacrosse competitive in Conference Carolinas, in the region and nationally.

“Signing talented recruits from the Northeast like Steven, as well as signing recruits from traditional lacrosse hotbeds such as Maryland, New York and Canada and from emerging recruiting hubs such as Florida and South Carolina will help ensure that Coker lacrosse enjoys success right from the start,” Smith said.

The Decision to Add Lacrosse

“A fast-paced game, lacrosse employs skills used in hockey, basketball and soccer, making it a great addition to Coker athletics,” said Lynn Griffin, Coker’s director of athletics.  “That it is also one of the fastest growing sports in the country makes it an even more attractive addition to Coker and to Hartsville,” she added.

Coker President Robert Wyatt sees a still more powerful reason for the move.

“Adding men’s lacrosse to our portfolio directly aligns with our strategic direction," Wyatt said. "We believe it will open new recruiting markets for us. But more importantly, it’s no secret that good lacrosse players also tend to be well prepared to succeed academically, fitting the strong scholar-athlete profile for which Coker is known.”

Other institutions in Conference Carolinas that have men’s lacrosse are Belmont Abbey College, Lees-McRae College, Limestone College, Pfeiffer University, Queens University of Charlotte and St. Andrews Presbyterian College. The addition of men’s lacrosse gives Coker 14 NCAA Division II athletic programs.

Prior to taking the helm of Coker’s lacrosse program, Smith served as assistant coach and defensive coordinator at Belmont Abbey, which last year held opposing teams to fewer than 10 points per game.

Thanks to a partnership with the City of Hartsville, Coker’s lacrosse team will practice and play their games on the football field at Byerly Park.