Lacrosse fans have taken Albany seriously for years, but never enough to win the national championship.
The Great Danes have had the best offensive show for years with Lyle and Miles Thompson, but they could only reach the NCAA Division quarterfinals in 2014 and 2015, and again in 2017 after they were gone. Albany got a lot of hype from several national publications heading into this season, but the Great Danes didn’t get everyone’s attention until last Saturday.
That’s when they trounced then-No. 7 Syracuse, 15-3, in the season opener. The Orange aren’t what they used to be, but Syracuse is still tough to beat in the Carrier Dome. Syracuse can still score goals in bunches, but the three against Albany were the least by an Orange team since it scored the same number in 1991.
The No. 2 Great Danes made a big, bold statement.
“I watched Albany play twice this fall,” Chesapeake Bayhawks coach Dave Cottle said. “They have a championship attack and faceoff man. Their middies hustle and play both ways. They are a matchup problem for all teams with an average or less faceoff guy.”
No one understands this more than head coach Scott Marr, who is in his 18th season at Albany. During his tenure, he has built some great and highly productive offenses, including last year when the Great Danes led the nation in scoring with 277 goals and 171 assists while averaging 15.4 goals per game.
But when those units have an off day, especially in the playoffs, then it’s going to be a tough afternoon and possibly a quick exit. So the emphasis now more than ever is to value each possession. If the Great Danes have a weakness, it’s that they are a little undersized on defense.
“It wasn’t like our defense was overlooked but much maligned,” said Marr, a former attackman at Johns Hopkins and assistant coach at Maryland. “You might score a lot, but if you have turnovers, lose faceoffs or don’t value the time, then that means you’re playing a lot of defense.
“And when you’re playing too much defense there, it increases the chances and amount of goals being scored.”
Albany is loaded on offense. The Great Danes have their top point scorer back from a year ago in senior attackman Connor Fields (55 goals, 62 assists in 2017) and one of the nation’s top freshmen in attackman Tehoka Nanticoke.
All Nanticoke did in his first college game was score five goals against Syracuse, one of the most storied programs in lacrosse history.
The Danes also have some other weapons on offense in Justin Reh, Jakob Patterson and midfielder Kyle McClancy.
“We’ve had recruits come here because they like our style of play,” Marr said. “But they also have to fully understand that their skill set has to fit into what we do. With Miles and Lyle, they understood when it was appropriate to have those over-the-shoulder shots and behind-the-back passes. It is controlled creativity.
“Right now, our offense is a work in progress. We need more balance. Right now, we have too many guys watching when Fields and Tehoka have the ball. It’s not like they are two Alpha males who are selfish and don’t want to pass the ball. We just have to get the others to know what is going on and how they can become more involved.”
The Great Danes might have solved their faceoff problem. TD Ierlan is a sophomore who won 16 of 21 against Syracuse. A team with numerous weapons such as Albany shouldn’t be able to reload so fast and so often.
“I was talking with [Syracuse coach] John Desko after the game and he said it wasn’t like we were playing poor defense but you guys just controlled the ball so much,” Marr said.
Now, it’s just a matter of improving on defense. Marr felt good about the effort from senior goalie JD Colarusso in the opener as he finished with 10 saves and a .769 save percentage.
But there is still a lot of room for improvement. Marr is the only Division I coach in the history of the school’s program. He has seen a lot of progress as far as facilities at Albany, including a track and field venue and a multisports complex both opened in 2013. Marr’s team plays in the 2,500-seat John Fallon Field, which opened in 2005.
This summer, he took his team up in the mountains where they spent a couple of days to bond. There were no cellphones or computer games allowed. It was time for fellowship and focus.
“Like every team we have, only one goal and that’s to win a national championship,” Marr said.