When he was still attending Niskayuna High School, James Sexton considered playing his college lacrosse at Hartford and Manhattan before instead heading to Onondaga Community College.
As his time started to wrap up at Onondaga and he looked to figure out where he’d head next, Sexton continued mostly looking at schools in the Northeast. The University at Albany, UMass and Vermont each interested him.
“So all were close to home,” Sexton said, “and, then, also Utah.”
That is exactly where Sexton ended up. The former Section II star who helped Niskayuna win a state championship in 2015 is one of the Utes’ top players during their inaugural season playing Division I men’s lacrosse.
“We played our first-ever game against Vermont on Feb. 1. It was tough for us. We were playing in our football stadium, and I think we were a little bit overwhelmed,” said Sexton, a junior whose team lost that opener 21-6 and is 4-7 on the season heading into Saturday’s game vs. Mount St. Mary’s. “I don’t know if we knew then what a Division I team looked like.”
Since that point, though, Utah has grown as a team. While the Utes have a losing record, they had a three-game winning streak at one point, and have played traditional power programs such as Denver, Duke and Virginia during their first-ever Division I season.
“We’ve gotten adjusted,” Sexton said.
Sexton has been one of Utah’s top scorers this season. In making nine starts, Sexton has scored 12 goals and dished 11 assists in his first season playing Division I lacrosse. Previously, Sexton was a two-time All-American and helped the Lazers win a pair of NJCAA championships at Onondaga.
“They’ve got a really good coaching staff out there,” Sexton said of Onondaga. “So it was very good for me. I learned a lot about lacrosse there, and I think I really grew up there.”
During the fall semester of his final year at Onondaga, Sexton had visited Utah to see if he could see himself playing for the developing program. He’d first reached out to the program’s coaching staff with an email to see if the Utes had any interest in him, which they did.
“And it was gorgeous out there,” Sexton said. “The coaches were welcoming, and I ended up committing right around Christmas time.”
Utah’s head coach is Brian Holman, who previously was an assistant coach at North Carolina. Holman coached for the North Carolina team that won a national championship in 2016 that featured Niskayuna native Luke Goldstock.
“Our coaching staff is one of the best in the country,” Sexton said. “So that was a huge attraction for me.”
So, too, was being a part of something new, and helping lacrosse continue to grow and develop in a part of the country where the game is not as commonly played as in the Northeast. More than 3,000 fans attended Utah’s first game this season.
“Some of them had never seen lacrosse before,” Sexton said, “so that was really cool.”