The Capital Region is becoming a hotbed for men’s Division I lacrosse.
The University at Albany not only won its fourth straight conference championship, but the Great Danes were only one goal away from reaching the national semifinals when they lost their NCAA quarterfinal matchup to Cornell in overtime last spring. Albany was ranked No. 2 in the country for six consecutive weeks, and established a school record for victories (15-3) en route to beating seven top-20 teams.
Meanwhile, Siena, under third-year head coach Brian Brecht, recorded its first winning season since 1983, and its first double-digit victory campaign in 26 years with a 10-6 overall record. The Saints won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season title with a 7-1 mark.
Both programs appear primed for successful campaigns, and each was chosen in their respective preseason coaches’ poll to win their league title. The Great Danes open the season at No. 1-ranked and defending national champion Johns Hopkins, while Siena started its 2008 season last weekend with a 19-3 victory over first-year Division I program Presbyterian.
Although they lost their two all-time leading scorers in Merrick Thomson and Frank Resetarits, a pair of professional first-round draft choices who combined for 485 career points, the Great Danes return 24 lettermen from last year’s record-setting season.
“We have to give credit to all the guys on our teams who
created the work ethic,” said
Albany head coach Scott Marr, the 2007 USILA Division I
National Coach of the Year. “We have
received tremendous support from our administration, and there is a sense of family that gradually keeps getting better and better. The
seniors and juniors on last year’s team learned valuable lessons, including how to win close games. There are many players on our current team who have won a [NCAA] playoff game, and been involved in the atmosphere of a quarterfinal. But we just can’t take anything for granted; you’re just not going to show up and win.”
Marr is confident that the Great Danes, ranked 12th in at least one national preseason poll, can be a powerhouse again.
“I think it was a good run last year, but we can be that strong again. Every year is a new year.”
Replacing Thomson’s and
Resetarits’ firepower won’t be easy, but Marr says it can be done by committee.
Junior Corey Small, a left-hander who scored 24 goals as a midfielder last season, will be moved to attack, while senior Derek Dale was fourth on the team in scoring, with 20 goals and 18 assists. Both will be expected to play a larger role in the offense.
“Corey will be on the field a lot more, and he finishes well,” said Marr, whose offense was ranked second nationally at 13.78 goals per game. “Derek stepped up his game. He gets the ball to people, and rides hard.”
Brian Caufield, listed as one of the nation’s top incoming freshmen, figures to move into the first attack line immediately. He earned All-Long Island recognition as a scholastic senior with 53 goals and 49 assists.
“Brian is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. He’s very mobile with great speed,” said Marr. “He can dodge against the long stick, and brings a different element to our offense. Corey Small can also go against the long stick. Our offense will be different this year. “
The Danes also return some excellent two-way midfielders in Jordan Levine (23 goals, 16 assists, 91 ground balls), Mike Ammann (11 goals, 20 assists) and Steve Ammann (13 goals, nine assists).
“[Levine] is a competitor who hates to lose. Jordan has that extra gear, and wants to be in the
moment, like all the great ones, where he can make something happen,” said Marr. “[The midfielders] represent a versatile group where so many can play both ways.”
Albany’s defense is anchored by All-America goalkeeper Brett Queener, a two-time first-team All-America East Conference selection who had a 9.68 goals-against average last season, as well as defenders Craig McDonald, Garrett Pedley and Chris Schongar.
“We are climbing the mountain,” said Marr. “The Cornell overtime loss is a great motivator. We just have to calm down the excitement because nothing will be easy. We’re not an underdog in every game anymore.”
Saturday — at Johns Hopkins, 12;
Feb. 26 — SIENA, 2; March 1 — at Notre Dame, 1; March 8 — at Delaware, 1; March 11 — at UMass, 3; March 15 — DREXEL, 1; March 21 — PRINCETON, 1; Mach 29 — BINGHAMTON, 1; April 5 — at Hartford, 1; April 8 — YALE, 7; April 12 — at Univeristy of Maryland Baltimore County, 7:30; April 18 — at Syracuse, 7; April 20 — VERMONT, 1; April 26 — STONY BROOK, 7; May 1 — America East Conference Tournament, TBA; May 3 — America East Conference Tournament, TBA.
The Saints won their first MAAC title last season, but Brecht wants more out of his Saints.
“We accomplished what we wanted to do in our season opener against Presbyterian, but they are only an upstart Division I program,” he said. “This is my fourth year with the program. In the three years I’ve been here, I’m very pleased with the strides we’ve made, and I owe it all to the young men who we
recruited. Now, we’re trying to build something, and that means we’re putting some weight on the players’ shoulders.
“I think we’ve come a long way in three short years, but there is a little uncertainty because we’ve never been the lead dog before. We’ve never been chased. We’ve always been near the bottom of the MAAC standings before. Now, we’re seeded No. 1, and everyone sees us differently. It will be a different kind of season for our guys.”
Back to lead the Saints will be preseason MAAC Player of the Year Matt Girsh, a junior attackman who scored 47 goals and added 12 assists last year.
Ryan Duggan (23 goals, 14 assists), defender Chris Viviano, midfielder Shaun Dunn (21 goals, six assists) and goalkeeper Brent Herbst (7.86 goals-against average, .535 save percentage) were also named to the preseason All-MAAC team.
“We’ve upgraded our schedule with games against Harvard,
UAlbany, Vermont and Stony Brook,” said Brecht. “That tougher schedule, plus having our role changed with us being the chased rather than the hunter, will make things tougher for us,” he said.
“But it all starts with our recruiting process. I’ve got three of my recruiting classes playing for me now. This is the deepest we’ve been. With our juniors playing so early in their careers, we have a lot of experience. We’re not an old team. We only have four seniors. But we have a lot of juniors and sophomores who have a lot of playing time for us.
“We return a second-team All-MAAC goalie and several rookies of the year.”
Other key players for the Saints will be attackman Chris Zarins (nine goals, six assists), midfielder Kenny Mazzone (eight goals, nine assists), midfielder Matt Leithead (11 goals, seven assists) and transfers Mike Lashomb and Bryan Hale. Lashbomb transferred from Herkimer County Community College, while Hale transferred from Hartford, where he was one of the Hawks’ top scorers as a midfielder.
The Saints have an added incentive this season because they will host the MAAC championships.
Satuday — HARVARD, 2; March 2 — VERMONT, 3; March 8 — at Stony Brook, 12; March 15 — at Saint Joseph’s, 1; March 18 — at Loyola, 3; March 22 — at Hartford, 1; March 25 — at St. John’s, 3; March 29 — PROVIDENCE, 1; April 5 — at Wagner, 2; April 12 — VMI, 1; April 16 — at Canisius, 4; April 19 — MANHATTAN, 1; April 23 — MARIST, 3; April 26 — at Mount St. Mary’s, 1; May 2 — MAAC championships at Siena; May 4 — MAAC championships at Siena.