ALBANY Scott Marr and Lyle Thompson say it with a straight face.
They’re dead serious.
The UAlbany lacrosse team is headed into just its 15th Division I season on Sunday, and has never won an NCAA tournament game in five tries.
And yet the Great Danes’ coach and preseason national player of the year say that winning a national championship is a goal — not sometime in the hazy, program-building future, but this year — and you believe that they’re saying it with the utmost conviction.
They could’ve played it safe from a PR standpoint and trotted out the usual stuff:
“We want to be competitive.”
“We want to win our conference.”
“We want to win an NCAA game.”
Nope. The Danes have joined the conversation for a national championship not because the rest of the nation put them there, but because they were asked about it and answered forthrightly.
“It’s certainly our goal,” Marr said.
“Obviously, our goal is to win a national championship,” Thompson said.
Nobody is making flamboyant guarantees or predictions here. Based on what the Danes did last year, what they have back and how they play, though, UAlbany has at least a puncher’s chance against any team in the country.
That makes them dangerous. That gives them the right to be confident, if not cocky, and believe that if they get hot at the end of the season, anything can happen.
They’ll get their first chance to walk the walk on Sunday, when they play Syracuse at the Carrier Dome in what amounts to a Daytona 500-like positioning on the schedule.
With one of the most-storied programs in the country, the Orange are coming off a championship-game appearance last spring and barely squeaked out the No. 1 spot in the USILA Coaches poll over North Carolina and Duke before blasting Siena, 19-7, on Monday.
UAlbany is coming off a season in which it achieved a No. 2 ranking, not in the USILA poll, but on Inside Lacrosse magazine’s top 10 spectacular goals, a between-the-legs dump-down by Ty Thompson with his back to the net off a feed from his cousin, Lyle, in the America East tournament championship game against UMBC.
The Danes lost to Denver, 19-14, in the first round of the 16-team NCAA tournament and finished No. 14, according to USILA. It was their first NCAA appearance since 2007, and they start this season at No. 10.
No matter what UAlbany does this season, it won’t ever be boring.
They keep it on hyperdrive no matter how thick the meteor shower and are the very definition of a team that is comfortable giving up 14, 15 goals or so, because it’s not unusual for them to drop more than that on a team.
Leaning on the joystick are the three Thompsons, the Native Americans who have brought a free-flowing scoring sensibility to UAlbany. Lyle Thompson, who missed the national scoring record by one point last season, is a junior, and his brother, Miles, and cousin Ty are seniors. Each was an All-American last year.
“Fun. That’s the easiest way to describe it,” Lyle said. “We’re a fun team to watch, it’s a fun way to play. We play these other teams that possess the ball, and it’s not too much fun to watch. There’s not much happening and not too many goals.”
“It’s our last year with all three Thompsons together, so we certainly want to take advantage of that,” Marr said.
Lyle and Miles grew up in the shadow of the Dome, in Onondaga Nation just south of Syracuse, and Ty is from Mohawk Nation in the North Country. Their game is a mix of the field lacrosse that patriarch Jerome Thompson introduced them to because he knew they would need it for college and the box lacrosse they were born into.
The indoor game emphasizes stick skill, footwork and imagination in tight quarters, and it will be on full display this season.
Jeremy Thompson, the older brother of Miles and Lyle, was a good player at Syracuse, but Lyle said they chose the burgeoning program in eastern New York over the long-standing powerhouse in central because they could be stars here instead of role players there.
Marr recruited them by telling them they could just be who they are, albeit within a certain amount of structure. You can see a parallel between UAlbany lacrosse and Union hockey, where coach Rick Bennett has given defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere latitude to use his speed, slick skating and creativity.
“The chemistry, the continuity they have, you can’t replicate, unless you’re related like they are,” Marr said. “It happened at practice last week. Lyle did something, and I just turned to the bench and said, ‘Man, that never gets old.’ He threw one between his legs or something, and it’s just amazing to see.
“As a coach, you do take it in that, wow, we do have a special group here and a special opportunity this year with this group of attackmen and the supporting cast that they have.”
So look out.
UAlbany won road games over Syracuse and Johns Hopkins last year, remarkably, the only team ever to have won at the Dome and Homewood in the same year.
The Thompson trio gives them the firepower to knock off anybody.
“You certainly feel comfortable. You feel like, if you need a goal, you can get one,” Marr said. “But the biggest thing with those guys is the level they’ve taken the program to. The whole team gets better because the level they play at, everybody else strives for that.”
“I love that about us, the fact that we don’t care who we’re playing, we just want to be that team that’s going to be everywhere,” Lyle Thompson said. “Fighting for a ground ball, we’re all right there. It’s like a wolf chasing their prey. I like that about us.”