Purpura Returns to Lead VMI Lacrosse Program

lacrosse coach speaking to players

James Pupura is the new lacrosse head coach. During the 2017 and 2018 seasons, he served as the offensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator. He departed the Institute in 2018 and served as head coach at Arcadia University in Pennsylvania for two seasons.

A familiar face to VMI lacrosse, James Purpura returns to the Institute as the seventh head coach to lead the program.

After serving as the offensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator during the 2017 and 2018 seasons at VMI, Purpura left in fall 2018 to become the head lacrosse coach at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania, and coached the Knights for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

Named the 2019 Middle Atlantic Conference Coach of the Year, Purpura led the Knights to a 14-11 record over two seasons, including a 5-2 mark in 2020 before the season was cut short due to the coronavirus. Turning around a program that went 31-59 over its first six seasons, he guided the team to its first playoff appearance following the 2019 campaign. In 2020, the Knights ranked 19th in Division III in goals per game and 11th in assists.

“It is great to welcome back James Purpura to VMI and to our lacrosse program,” said Dr. Dave Diles, VMI director of athletics. “He did an exceptional job while he was here previously and added head coaching experience the past couple of seasons. He understands VMI, the Southern Conference and, most importantly, projected a detailed, specific and inspiring plan to move us forward.”

Purpura mentored four All-MAC selections including the program’s first IMCLA All-Region honoree and USILA Scholar All-American. Academically, Arcadia broke program records for three straight semesters as two thirds of the team finished on the MAC Honor Roll (1st out of 17 teams).

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to return to VMI,” Purpura said. “I have continued to follow the program from afar and now for the opportunity to be at the helm of such a prideful program is a tremendous honor. I want to thank General Peay ’62, Doctor Diles and the search committee for bestowing their confidence in me to coach, teach and mentor the Keydet lacrosse program. It’s important to me to be a part of an institution that strives for excellence in everything they do, and I look forward to building a culture that’s committed to preparing our cadet-athletes for a lifestyle of winning.

“When lacrosse cadet-athletes come to VMI, they have a unique opportunity to achieve a nationally renowned education, be prepared with the tools for life and have a transformative experience, all while playing at the highest level of competition. I am excited to reunite with the players, alumni and fans who have demonstrated such loyalty to the Institute and to VMI lacrosse.”

Under Purpura’s offense in 2018, VMI senior midfielder Wesley Sanders ’18 became only the 17th Keydet in program history to join the 100-Point Club, as he finished his career with 102 points. Sanders also joined the 70-Goal Club at VMI, only the 13th Keydet in program history to achieve the rank. Freshman attacker Ryan Perouty ’21 thrived in the system, leading the team with 29 goals for the season as he ranked second in the league in goals per game at 2.23 and ninth in points at 2.54 per game.

Purpura was promoted to the head assistant position after completing his first year on staff in 2017, where under his tutelage as the offensive coordinator, the Keydet offense improved in nearly every statistical category, including scoring the most goals per game in five years. Under Purpura’s leadership in 2017, Sanders was named first team All-Southern Conference and freshman attacker John Daniel ’20 was named to the Southern Conference All-Freshman team after guiding the Keydets’ offense with 34 points.

Purpura first came to VMI after serving as the offensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator at Queens University of Charlotte in 2016. Under his leadership, the Royal offense broke the school record for most goals scored in a season.

The Royals also finished with the second most wins in program history (11), made a SAC Conference Championship appearance and were ranked as high as No. 12 in the country in Division II. In one season, Purpura helped coach and develop six All-SAC selections, including both the SAC Player of the Year and SAC Scholar-Athlete of the year, as well as one Major League Lacrosse player.

Before arriving at Queens, Purpura was a graduate assistant coach at Frostburg State during the 2015 season. Purpura helped lead a fifth-year program to their first national ranking in program history, ranking as high as No. 17 in the nation. The Bobcats finished with the most wins in program history with a 16-3 record and made their first CAC Conference Championship appearance. Purpura assisted with a defense that gave up the fewest goals allowed per game in program history (6.16), which finished sixth in the nation in Division III. Purpura helped coach and develop eight All-CAC selections and the program’s first three USILA All-Americans.

Purpura spent the 2014 season at SUNY Brockport as the offensive coordinator where he improved goals scored per game, shooting percentage and the extra man offense. While with the Golden Eagles, Purpura was named an assistant coach at the 2014 USILA Division III North/South Senior All-Star Game. Purpura helped coach and develop three All-SUNYAC selections and the program’s first USILA Scholar All-American.

The Pittsford, New York, native began his collegiate career at Mount Saint Mary’s before transferring to SUNY Geneseo. While at Geneseo, Purpura helped the Knights reach as high as No. 12 in the nation. Geneseo also made consecutive SUNYAC playoff appearances, including a SUNYAC championship appearance.

Purpura is a 2013 graduate of SUNY Geneseo where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology. Purpura also earned his Master of Education degree in interdisciplinary studies from Frostburg State in 2015.

He married his wife, Leah, in 2018.

Editor’s Note: This was originally published on