In a move that will surprise no one, Loyola Maryland defenseman Joe Fletcher has spent a considerable amount of time watching film of Albany attackman Lyle Thompson, and the Greyhounds senior knows that the tape doesn’t lie.
He also knows that the tape isn’t entirely truthful. It can’t capture the full scope of trying to shadow the Great Danes junior, who has already tied UMBC attackman Steve Marohl’s single-season NCAA record of 114 points.
“That’s what makes him, him,” Fletcher said Wednesday afternoon. “He’s an athletic dodger who can do anything. We’ve been watching film on him, and some of the things that him, his brother and his cousin do are incredible. If you just take that one false step, they’re going to capitalize on it.”
The potential matchup between Fletcher, regarded as the top defenseman in the game, and Thompson, the prohibitive favorite to capture the Tewaaraton Award, is just one tantalizing storyline of an already juicy NCAA tournament first-round game between third-seeded Loyola (15-1) and Albany (11-5) on Saturday at noon at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore.
There are other plotlines, including the presence of Great Danes senior attackman Miles Thompson who has posted 74 goals and 34 assists and the defense’s strategy against senior attackman Justin Ward (16 goals and 53 assists) and the rest of the Greyhounds offense. But the anticipated battle between Fletcher and Lyle Thompson has garnered much of the attention around the contest.
Normally, Loyola coach Charley Toomey would leave Fletcher – who ranks second in the country among defensemen with 76 ground balls and is 11th with 28 caused turnovers – alone as he prepares to mark an opponent’s top attackman.
“I would say that nine times out of 10, but having watched the amount of film I’ve watched on this young man, he’s just different from a lot of the matchups that Joe’s been asked to cover,” Toomey said. “We have a tremendous amount of respect for Albany. What Joe has also been able to do is cover up a few of the mistakes off the ball and still get back to his matchup. But with this team coming in this weekend, you really can’t be too far away from your matchup or they’ll kill you. They’re so good in tight spaces and they throw the ball to people that appear to be covered, that it’s going to be hard for Joe to play the typical game that we ask of him.”
ESPN analyst Mark Dixon said unlike other defensemen, Fletcher does not have to change his playing style against Thompson.
“I think Joe Fletcher on Lyle Thompson is a perfect matchup for Joe,” said Dixon, a former Johns Hopkins midfielder. “You’ve got the flair and the dazzling power of Lyle Thompson versus Mr. Boring, and I don’t mean that in a negative way at all. The guy just plays sound, fundamental, tough defense. He doesn’t throw crazy stick checks. He’s not going to chase you all over the field. He makes you come to him, and that is why he is the best defenseman in the game and the best defenseman in all of college lacrosse. So I think it’s a really good matchup for Joe.”
Fletcher said he will focus on Thompson’s hips, not his eyes, which he can use to draw Fletcher away from a dodging or passing lane. In the end, if Thompson breaks the NCAA single-game record of 16 points, set by Air Force’s Bill Woolford on April 5, 1975, and the Greyhounds still win the game, Fletcher will be satisfied.
“I’m fine with that,” he said. “I mean, I’ll probably be upset with myself and the way I played, but I just want my team to win. That’s why you play, and that’s really hitting me now. We’re in the NCAA tournament, and this is our last chance. I’d rather make it to the next game and have another chance at redeeming myself. I don’t really care about records or numbers too much.”