May 8, 2014

Five Things to Watch in Men's Tewaaraton Race

by Corey McLaughlin | | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive

Loyola senior Joe Fletcher joins rare company as a defenseman named a Tewaaraton finalist. He'll square off against fellow finalist Lyle Thompson on Saturday in an NCAA tournament first-round game.

The five finalists for the men's Tewaaraton Award were announced Thursday afternoon and they are Albany attackmen and brothers Lyle and Miles Thompson, Duke senior attackman Jordan Wolf, Loyola senior close defenseman Joe Fletcher and Princeton senior midfielder Tom Schreiber.

The winners will be named May 29 at a ceremony at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., three days after the national champion is crowned in Baltimore.

The NCAA tournament always factors in to who ultimately takes the Tewaaraton Award hardware home with them. Here are five things to watch over the next three weeks.

The Thompsons

Last year, Lyle Thompson was the first Native American finalist for the Tewaaraton — which is endorsed by the Mohawk Nation Council of Elders and an honor that symbolizes lacrosse's centuries-old roots in Native American heritage. This year, his brother Miles is the second and Lyle — along with Princeton's Schreiber — are the first two-time finalists since Virginia's Steele Stanwick in 2011 and 2012.

The Thompsons story is a fascinating one, and lacrosse fans should enjoy the viewing pleasure Saturday during would could possibly be the last game all three, Lyle, Miles and cousin Ty, play together at the college level. The former is a junior and the latter seniors.

Lyle should be considered the Tewaaraton favorite at this point, having already tied the NCAA Division I men's single-season points record of 114, and likely to break it Saturday. One point isn't a lot when his average is 7.13. And Miles is right behind with 108 points, with a 6.75 per game average and 74 goals - in range of breaking the single-season mark of 82 set by Yale midfielder Jon Reese in 1990.

The Wolf

In any other non-Thompson year, Wolf, the best attackman on the top seeded team in the NCAA tournament, would be the Tewaaraton front-runner. But alas, these are the cards the exciting attackman is dealt for his senior year. Wolf is averaging 3.19 goals per game, almost a goal-and-a-half behind Miles Thompson. The big bad Wolf's Tewaaraton case is likely tied to the Blue Devils' performance in the NCAA tournament, and the program's history bodes well for him. Duke has made the last seven final fours and is the defending champion. Should they make a run like that again, Wolf will be present on the sport's biggest stage. At the same time, Duke's starting midfield of Deemer Class, Myles Jones and Christian Walsh has emerged as an equally dangerous scoring threat as its attack of Wolf, Josh Dionne and Case Matheis. But Wolf still draws the opposition's top defenseman.

Saturday's Albany-Loyola Game

For the first time ever, three Tewaaraton men's finalists will be playing in the same game. The Thompsons' Albany squad squares off Saturday against third-seeded Loyola, whose defense is centered around Joe Fletcher. The guy known as "Fletch" has seen his stock steadily rise throughout his college career, from a key, yet relatively unknown contributor on Loyola's 2012 title team to the point where he is now as the lone collegian left in the Team USA mix. The New York Lizards picked him third overall in January's MLL draft.

Fletcher will likely square off directly with Lyle Thompson, but you never know what in-game adjustments may be made as well. It should be a great matchup and chess match to watch.

Fletch Breaking Ground

In the Tewaaraton's 13-year history, only six times has a defenseman been a finalist, and all but one — Virginia's Ken Clausen in 2010 — would be considered primarily a long-stick midfielder. None has ever won the award. And only a handful of times have those players faced an offensive player who was also a Tewaaraton finalist in the NCAA tournament.

The last time was 2010, when Clausen went head-to-head with Duke attackman Ned Crotty in the final four. They were the two remaining Tewaaraton Award finalists in the tournament. Crotty was limited for most of the game, but finished with a goal and two assists, including the helper on Duke's game-winner in the 14-13 victory. Duke won its first national title two days later and Crotty won the Tewaaraton.

Prior to that, you have to go back all the way to the 2005 NCAA tournament first-round when then-Georgetown senior Brodie Merrill squared off with Army attackman John Walker. Merrill held Walker without a goal or an assist for the first time in 44 games in the Hoyas' 16-6 victory.

The year before featured Merrill in another classic matchup, against eventual 2004 Tewaaraton winner Mikey Powell. In Syracuse's 8-7 quarterfinal victory, Merrill held Powell scoreless in the first half, but Powell heated up with three third-quarter goals to tie the game at six. Syracuse midfielder Sean Lindsay notched the winner. Merrill was a Tewaaraton finalist in both '04 and '05.

Also on the defensive end, Princeton goalie Trevor Tierney was the first netminder finalist in the award's first year in 2001. Only he and John Galloway (Syracuse, 2011) have earned such status.

Clausen was a close defenseman, but could bump up to long-stick midfield if the game plan called for it. Merrill, of course, helped redefine the long-stick midfield position in the years that have followed through the present day. And the only other finalists on the defensive side of the ball were long-stick midfielders CJ Costabile (Duke, 2012) and Joel White (Syracuse, 2010 and 2011). Fletcher is strictly a close defenseman, but he too can also start some transition by forcing turnovers and his great ground ball play.

Watch closely when Fletcher defends Lyle Thompson at point-behind whenever that matchup is set Saturday. It will be fundamentals versus flash, with talented supporting casts in the Danes offensive unit and Greyhounds defense.

With a great performance Saturday can Fletcher throw himself into the Tewaaraton lead? Maybe, but knowing his laid-back personality, he probably doesn't really care about that.

The Long Shot

For the second straight season, Princeton midfielder Tom Schreiber is a finalist, but his team will not play in the NCAA tournament. That speaks tremendously to what the selection committee thinks about Schreiber as a player. He was the No. 1 overall draft pick of the Ohio Machine in the Major League Lacrosse collegiate draft in January. He's in Princeton's record book as the program's fifth-leading scorer with 200 career points on 106 goals and 94 assists, and has been classy all the way through.

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