Nanticoke living up to hype for No. 1 UAlbany men’s lacrosse

Freshman has 17 goals in first six games
No. 1 UAlbany plays at No. 2 Maryland this weekend.
No. 1 UAlbany plays at No. 2 Maryland this weekend.

ALBANY — After all that hype surrounding the arrival of Tehoka Nanticoke on the college men’s lacrosse scene, the freshman has done OK.

Just OK.

That’s according to his head coach, who offered up a one-word assessment on how Nanticoke has played to this early juncture in his University at Albany career.

“Average,” UAlbany head coach Scott Marr said Monday of Nanticoke’s first half-dozen college games.

Any more you want to add there, Coach?

“I think he’s got a lot to improve on. He does. He’s learning the college game here,” Marr said. “He’s had opportunities to finish and he hasn’t. He’s just like everybody on the team. We can keep getting better.”

That’s true.

It’s also, to some degree, coachspeak.

UAlbany, after all, is No. 1 in the nation — and Nanticoke has played his starring role, as expected.

Nanticoke picked up his third America East Rookie of the Week award Monday after registering three goals and two assists in UAlbany’s 21-5 win Saturday against Vermont. After that five-point day, Nanticoke has 17 goals and 10 assists in his first six games, leaving him second on UAlbany in scoring behind senior Connor Fields — the reigning America East Offensive Player of the Week — and 17th overall in the nation in points per game.

“He’s done an unbelievable job,” said UAlbany sophomore TD Ierlan, last year’s America East Rookie of the Year. “For a freshman to get all the attention he gets and to still put up the numbers he is, it’s pretty remarkable.”

That extra attention comes both on and off the field. Despite playing alongside Fields — who is on pace to set the NCAA career scoring record this season — Nanticoke still occasionaly draws an opposing team’s top 1-on-1 defender, and a double-team often waits for him when he isolates. Away from game action, Nanticoke remains just as much a focal point, given he is regarded as the nation’s top freshman and the sport’s next superstar.

To this point, none of that has bothered Nanticoke. UAlbany started its fourth consecutive week at No. 1 on Monday,  and will look to improve to 7-0 in Tuesday’s 3 p.m. home game against Canisius. The season has gone to plan for the freshman from Six Nations.

“It’s been a lot like I expected it to be, I guess,” Nanticoke said. “I knew our team was going to be exciting to watch.”

Nanticoke has been one of the primary reasons for that. He debuted with five goals in UAlbany’s blowout win at Syracuse, and he’s become more comfortable within the Great Danes’ offense in the weeks that have followed.

“For him,” Ierlan said, “coming in from high school where he had to do everything — where he was ‘the guy’ — to come in here and mesh with our team like he has, he’s done a really good job with that.”

A large part of meshing with the Great Danes involves playing off Fields, who still controls the UAlbany offense. Early in the season, Fields said he’d often realize in post-game film sessions that he’d missed an open Nanticoke. That’s happening less as the season goes along.

“I feel like we’re definitely getting better each and every game and practice,” Fields said.

Nanticoke is starting to show off more of the creativity, too, that he became known for — and which fed the hype around him — as a high school player. He hasn’t had a highlight at the level of his behind-his-back-and-through-his-legs goal he scored this past fall in a scrimmage against Johns Hopkins, but he’s started with regularity to use the turf to bounce pass the ball to teammates from long distances and odd angles . . . but he doesn’t find those passes to be worth much notice.

“That’s something I’ve done my entire life. It’s just another type of pass,” Nanticoke said. “There are kids doing that. My 10-year-old nephew back home is doing it right now. It’s just another way to get the ball to someone.”

As Nanticoke grows more comfortable, Marr has said he expects the Great Danes’ approach to shift to include more of an even split between Fields and Nanticoke in terms of initiating the team’s offense — and that time probably isn’t too far away, since Marr is willing to admit Nanticoke has been better than “average” once he is pressed a bit on that description.

“He’s been very good so far, but I think he could be great,” Marr said. “If we can get him to be great by the end of the season, we’re going to be in pretty good shape.”

Reach Michael Kelly at [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.

Categories: College Sports, Sports

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