July 16, 2013

Summer Reading: Lyle Thompson Just Getting Started

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive

Albany's Lyle Thompson with his family at the Tewaaraton Award Ceremony in May at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Lyle Thompson is just getting started.

Just getting started playing attack. Just getting started as a father to his two young children. Just getting started taking the college lacrosse world by storm.

And yet he's already "probably the best offensive player in the country," Denver coach Bill Tierney said ahead of the Pioneers' NCAA tournament tilt with Albany this May.

Thompson finished the 2013 season — his sophomore year at Albany — with 113 points, one shy of tying the NCAA Division I single-season record set by former UMBC attackman Steve Marahol in 1992. Thompson led the nation in points per game with 6.65 and was second in assists with 3.71.

The reserved, 6-foot and 180-pound Lyle teamed with his brother Miles and cousin Ty to form a prolific attack unit that combined for 254 points, good for 56 percent of Albany's team total. They shot a combined 40 percent to lead the Great Danes to an America East title and an NCAA tournament berth. There were spot feeds, cross field back side passes, and the general feeling that holding onto the ball for more than a couple seconds would burn a hole in someone's pocket.

All the more impressive was the fact that last season was the first time Lyle ever played primarily at attack. Miles and Ty, juniors last season, had been there already. The seed for the idea was planted last summer, when Albany coach Scott Marr told Lyle Thompson, always a midfielder, that he was moving him to attack and he should consider playing some at the position in Finland with the Iroquois Nationals during the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) Under-19 World Championships.

"I said, 'Whatever the team needs,'" said Thompson, who captained the Iroquois U19 team that beat the United States in pool play for its first-ever international field win over Team USA.

"It took a while to get used to, not dodging a middie," Thompson said. "But in the end, dodging a pole is easier than dodging a middie. You don't get hacked as much, stuff like that."

The results were electric. The Thompson trio was great, leading Albany to big wins, like a 16-15 double-overtime victory over Syracuse in the season-opener and a 10-9 win over Johns Hopkins at Homewood Field at the start of April. The former made observers take a good, hard look at Albany and latter lined the Great Danes up for May Madness contention while helping drop the Blue Jays out of it.

A turning point for Albany came in the third game of the season against Yale. The Danes had already beaten Syracuse and then lost to Drexel, 20-19, in the second game of the year, although one could hardly consider the loss a poor performance.

It was cold, 32 degrees, and cloudy in Albany on March 2. Dirty snow piles lined the sidelines. Lyle Thompson finished with six points, Ty Thompson scored twice, but the Danes only scored eight goals and lost to Yale by seven. Miles Thompson didn't play.

"We realized that that game we weren't a fun team to watch," Lyle Thompson said. "For the rest of the season, out motto was, 'Be a fun team to watch.' That went true through every game."

Sure did. They led the nation with 15.94 goals per game, more than a goal per game better than second-place Cornell (14.56), and the highest average in Division I since Virginia scored more than 18 goals a game in 1997.

Thompson finished his sophomore season one point shy of tying the NCAA Division I single-season points record of 113.
© Marc Piscotty

The personnel fit the coach. The free-spirited Marr allowed the Thompsons to play the up-and-down, fast-pace tempo that they always had (a style which the new NCAA rules encouraged, too). Albany's Thompson crew grew up on reservations in New York, with Miles and Lyle raised in Onondaga Nation and Ty in Mohawk, a few hours away. The brothers grew up playing together in the backyard and all three were playing indoor organized lacrosse together, coached by Jerome Thompson, Miles and Lyle's father.

"Offensively, playing with my brother and my cousin, I've never had better chemistry with anybody else. It made it a lot easier, just trusting in each other," Thompson said. "And we wanted to stay consistent on defense. With [freshman goalie Blaze Riorden] coming in and knowing he was good right from the fall, it kind of gave us a lot of confidence that we could be contenders this year."

It's very possible that Lyle Thompson would have set the NCAA single-season points record had he not needed to miss one game this season to be with his wife for the birth of their second child. What a unique story. Or, he could have set the mark if Albany managed to play one more game. The Danes' season ended with a first-round loss to eventual semifinalist Denver.

"I tried to keep my head out of that," Thompson said of the record, "but the closer I got, the more it got in my head. My brother wanted me to get it, and I was just telling him, 'I'm going to play the game.' Every game, I kind of just went in and said I can only give 100 percent effort."

The family, children included, was present at the Tewaaraton Award ceremony in May at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Thompson was one of five men's finalists, and the first-ever Native American up for the award that goes to the game's best player and symbolizes the sport's centuries-old roots in Native American heritage.

"Given the history of this award and where we are, in this museum, it just makes me feel honored to be part of this award and be a finalist," Thompson said then.

Major League Lacrosse's Hamilton Nationals, through trades, already have three first-round draft picks in 2015, the year Thompson will be eligible for the league's pre-season rookie draft. If the way team owner Curt Styres, of Six Nations, loaded up picks in advance of drafting Iroquois star Cody Jamieson to the NLL's Knighthawks (which Styres also owns) is any indication, the Nationals are targeting Thompson in the same manner.

But there's plenty of time between now and then.

Coaching Carousel

In case you missed it, Sean Burns caught up with new Hobart head coach Greg Raymond, whose hire was announced late Friday. Read the Q&A here with the former Princeton defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator in which he talks about the hiring process. Raymond also has a compelling backstory, having been behind the wheel in a drunk driving accident in 2005 that killed his close friend and former Johns Hopkins teammate Matt Stoffel. As described in this Washington Post story by Pulitzer Prize winner Eli Saslow, Stoffel's family forgave Raymond and he was sentenced to two years of probation and 250 hours of community service... The hire was praised by Princeton's Tewaaraton Award finalist Tom Schreiber, a focus of the previous installment of 'Summer Reading'... Raymond's hire leaves two Division I men's coaching openings left on the immediate horizon, Sacred Heart and UMass-Lowell, the latter which begins its first season in the America East in spring of 2015. An interesting note to the Sacred Heart job: the new athletic director there is former New York Mets and Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, although it appears Valentine is more of a fundraising face for the athletic department and less of a day-to-day operations person.

Realignment Cooling

With Bellarmine and the Atlantic Sun officially announcing last week that the Knights will join the conference in 2014-15, conference realignment has come to a pause for now. The only men's program left hanging without a league by the spring 2015 is Air Force, which is seeking Atlantic Sun affiliate membership... The biggest loser in all of this conference moving and shaking is the ECAC. Last season the league sent three teams (Denver, Loyola and Ohio State) to the NCAA tournament. In 2015, the conference won't exist.

In-Person Coaching Ban

Starting Aug. 1, coaches and staff members of NCAA Division I sports teams, including men's and women's lacrosse programs, will not be able to scout future opponents in person. NCAA membership voted last month. Coaches will still be allowed to scout future opponents live if they're competing at the same site, such as a tournament a doubleheader setting. The legislation was originally proposed by an NCAA committee because of improvements in video technology.

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