February 6, 2014

Lambrecht: Albany Ready for Season in Spotlight

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Lambrecht Archive

Albany has high hopes entering 2014 in the Top 10 and featuring Tewaaraton favorite and LM's Preseason Player of the Year Lyle Thompson. (Corey McLaughlin)

For most of the past 13 seasons under head coach Scott Marr, sometimes while toiling in mediocrity and other times while lighting up the top 20 with offensive fireworks, the Albany men's lacrosse team has demanded attention with its throwback style.

To watch the Great Danes sustain a relentlessly breakneck pace by pushing the ball whenever possible is to watch a 1980s reel, or even Virginia and Syracuse doing battle less than a decade ago. For pure entertainment value, the typical fan will always prefer a back-and-forth contest that produces something in the 30-goal neighborhood.

One year after they charged to 13 victories, led the NCAA by scoring 16 goals per game and did the improbable by knocking off Syracuse and Johns Hopkins on the road, Albany is getting attention, all right. The Great Danes are ranked no. 10 coming into the regular season, and with Lyle, Myles and Ty Thompson back one last time together to form the most dazzling attack in Division I, much is expected from Albany.

"We're not creeping up on anybody. We're dealing with success. People are actually noticing us," Marr said. "That's a little bit more of a challenge for us."

But it's a challenge that Marr has been dying to take on. As the 2014 season begins to unfold, how the Great Danes handle that challenge will be among the more watched storylines.

Albany should be the class of the America East once again, which means it should make the NCAA tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time under Marr, who has guided the Great Danes to the NCAAs three times dating to 2003. But getting there won't be enough for Albany, which won its only NCAA tournament game in 2007 and went down in the first round last spring by giving up 19 goals to Denver.

Is this the year the Danes become a more complete team and mix in some shutdown defense to go with that ridiculous offense? Ranking 58th in Division I by allowing 12.5 goals per game, as Albany did in 2013, will not cut it.

Is this the year the Danes bring enough balance into the postseason to make a big move in May? Is this the year Albany makes an inaugural appearance in the final four, the way fellow America East member Delaware did in 2007?

Marr thinks the Danes will be more formidable in the back end, with sophomore goalie Blaze Riordan back after coming up large in some mega-large moments a year ago. He thinks the defensive midfield, with junior LSM Eric Cantor policing up top, will be more judicious with its positioning and not gamble too much and thus expose Riordan to one-on-one shots too often.

But one thing the Danes will not do is take their feet off of the gas. Albany is the personification of run-and-gun.

Albany will play eight midfielders in four different shifts – many of them in two-way roles – and will play with a fourth attackman on the field much of the time. Albany will essentially remain a team that looks to its offense as its best defense. The Great Danes will gladly take 45 shots, give up 40 and dare you to out-shoot them.

"We really improved our game between the lines in the fall," said Marr, who expects primary sophomore faceoff specialist Kevin McNally (25-for-40 as a backup last year) to win more than 50 percent of his draws consistently this spring.

"We're trying to play even faster than we did last year," he added. "We think defenses are going to have a better plan for us. We turn the ball over a lot because of the way we play, but we find when teams try to keep up with us, they turn it over a lot. We'll push it as much as we can, and live and die by it."

Albany will not embark on the 2014 season with any shortage of confidence.

Why would they, with one or more of the Thompsons capable of dropping a monster performance on any opponent? Why would they, a year after serving notice by opening the season with a thrilling win at the Carrier Dome? Why would they, after severely wounding Hopkins' soon-to-be-dashed playoff hopes with a 10-9, come-from-behind stunner at Homewood Field – on an April night in which Lyle Thompson did not score a point?

Everyone knows about little Albany, which will have to go to Syracuse and Baltimore to pull off that exacta again, something no school has ever done. The Great Danes also must navigate a tough, non-conference schedule that includes trips to UMass and Penn State and dangerous visitors such as Drexel and Harvard.

No one knows how long the Great Danes will be standing when May arrives, but it sure is going to be fun watching them take their best shots at making history.

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