Albany

How the Danes became great

UAlbany men's lacrosse has become a fixture in the NCAA tournament
Scott Marr has built a consistent winner with UAlbany men's lacrosse.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Scott Marr has built a consistent winner with UAlbany men's lacrosse.

Categories: College Sports, Sports

ALBANY — His program isn’t filled with as many blue-chip prospects as other top men’s lacrosse programs.

But University at Albany men’s lacrosse head coach Scott Marr and his coaching staff have consistently found the right chips to build a high-level winner in recent years.

And “chips” is the key word. For Marr, recruiting to stock his program with capable players has always been viewed with a “Come on down!” approach to it.

“I’ve always looked at it like it’s that ‘The Price Is Right’ game: Plinko,” Marr said. “Basically, as a recruiter, what you do is you go out and find, let’s say, 50 kids you really like — and, out of those 50 kids, you really want to get 12 of them. That’s any 12 and you would be happy. So, then, you bring them to campus, you show them around, and then you take all those guys — all those Plinko chips — and you put them at the top of the board and you put all of the schools at the bottom. Hopkins, Syracuse and the top teams go in the middle, and then you put all the rest of the teams on the outside and you drop each kid.

“They bounce down and they bounce down and they bounce down,” Marr said, “and they land on Albany or they land on Hopkins or they land on Syracuse or they land on wherever. And that’s how it all works.”

It is a fun analogy and one that probably has more truth to it than most college coaches would want to acknowledge.

But it also undersells the ability of Marr and his assistant coaches to find ways to compete against the sport’s true blue blood for players capable of fueling a program which has gone 82-23 since the start of the 2013 season, and is the No. 2 seed for this year’s NCAA tournament. This year’s trip to the NCAA tournament marks UAlbany’s sixth consecutive appearance.

“That just shows how they read talent,” said UAlbany senior Troy Reh, whose team plays Richmond in Saturday’s NCAA first round game at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium. “We get talent every year here.”

Troy Reh is a prime example of the type of player the Great Danes seek — tough-nosed kids with strong stick skills craving to play in a fast-paced system — and the circumstances through which they find them. Troy Reh, essentially, is at UAlbany as a package deal with his twin brother Justin Reh — and UAlbany found the Reh twins because they played club lacrosse on Long Island with Zach Wolfe, who is now a UAlbany senior. The Rehs, both of whom is a top player for the Great Danes, only starting looking at UAlbany after Wolfe told them about his positive experience at a UAlbany camp . . . while the three then-teenagers were supposed to be paying attention during a driver’s education class.

“And the coaches here did want Justin more than me, too,” Troy Reh said. “But that’s OK. Happy to be here. Don’t regret that decision at all.”

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Luke Daquino, a 2005 UAlbany graduate, coached the Long Island club team for which the Rehs and Wolfe played. Another player on that team: UAlbany senior Kyle McClancy, a two-way midfielder who was picked No. 10 in this year’s Major League Lacrosse draft. Daquino helped connect UAlbany with McClancy, a player who has become as valuable a Great Dane as any . . . and one who likely would have played Division III lacrosse if not for an offer from UAlbany.

“I wasn’t sure if I was good enough,” McClancy said. “I didn’t really get looks from anywhere else.”

There are lots of current Great Danes with a story similar to McClancy’s. While UAlbany beat out top programs for freshman Tehoka Nanticoke, the No. 1 recruit in the nation, the rest of the team’s roster is largely filled with players who had little Division I interest at the time they committed to Marr’s program.

“For me, it’s kind of crazy,” said UAlbany freshman Chris Ryan, a California native. “Like, I wasn’t recruited at all — I wasn’t even really recruited by Albany. They didn’t look at me. They didn’t scout me or send me any emails. But I had a couple really good coaches and [UAlbany] took me off their word. The rest is history.”

For Ryan, one of those coaches was Frank Resetarits, a 2007 UAlbany graduate and the program’s first-ever Tewaaraton Award finalist. Resetarits — who also helped connect UAlbany with senior Connor Fields — has helped Marr connect with a number of players, and is one of a group of people around the country that help the Great Danes’ coaches in that way.

“We have a lot of eyes and ears out there,” Marr said.

They trust them, too. Often, without hesitation.

“Come check this kid out,” Daquino told Marr about McClancy. “He’s got no offers, but he’s probably the best midfielder on Long Island.”

And?

“We went,” Marr said.

If he wasn’t at UAlbany, McClancy has said in the past he might have ended up at RPI.

“But, honestly,” McClancy said, “RPI is a little bit expensive.”

While much has (rightly) been made about Marr’s success recruiting Native American players to UAlbany — and taking them away from rival Syracuse — it’s likely that UAlbany has no greater recruiting advantage than the one it gains from being a public school inside perhaps the country’s most fertile state in terms of producing college lacrosse players. An NCAA men’s lacrosse program is allotted a maximum of 12.6 athletic scholarships to split among its roster, which means full scholarships are an extreme rarity. In a sport in which many top programs reside at schools that cost upwards of $50,000 to attend annually, UAlbany’s price — less than $10,000 per year for its in-state rate for tuition and fees, and less than $25,000 for its out-of-state rate for tuition and fees — can’t be ignored as a factor in driving so many players from New York to Marr’s program.

“I was a tuition-driven recruiter. That was really my big sell to people,” Marr said of when he first started recruiting to UAlbany. “But, even now, we’re probably still 75 percent New York kids. The beauty of that is we’re one of the best states in the country for lacrosse, from top to bottom.”

UAlbany has 50 players on its current roster, and 35 of them come from New York. Marr said 32 of his 50 players have at least a piece of the Great Danes’ 12.6 athletic scholarships. Marr said he has given out full scholarships to players during his tenure at UAlbany, but declined to say if anyone on this year’s team has a full ride.

Marr said scholarship money the program gives out mainly ranges from paying for a player’s books to covering 20 to 30 percent of a player’s total cost. It is not uncommon, Marr said, for an out-of-state player to receive a larger percentage of a scholarship to help make up for the extra cost incurred by attending UAlbany.

“It depends on where they’re from, what their background is, their position and how highly we of think of if they can improve our program,” Marr said. “But a lot of it is timing, too. Sometimes, some of your best players will come in at the end of a [recruiting] class and there’s not money left for them. You’re just fortunate to get them. . . . There are guys that sit on the bench that have money and there are guys who play a lot who don’t have a lot of money.”

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Players are able to gain more scholarship money as their careers continue and funds open up. But, at UAlbany, even Fields — who has scored more points in his career than all except three other players in the history of NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse — acknowledged he does not have a full athletic scholarship.

With a sheepish smile, he’ll admit that it is his parents — not him — who pay the difference.

“They pay the rest,” Fields said. “Not going to lie.”

The western New York native added: “They got lucky with that state rate.”

But for a lot of Marr’s players and their families, that is true. Marr — whose son Kyle plays for Johns Hopkins (“I’m paying, like, $66,000 at Hopkins”) — credits UAlbany’s affordability, too, with why his program has been able to attract so many sets of brothers. Rosters with siblings have been a constant in Marr’s 18 seasons guiding UAlbany, and this year’s team includes three sets: freshman Alex and junior Jack Burgmaster, freshman Matt and junior Sean Eccles, and the Rehs.

“In today’s world, it’s not easy for people to come up with that kind of money,” Marr said. “So we’re at an advantage with the New York kid. That is a bargaining chip for us.”

But there are other state schools in New York playing Division I men’s lacrosse. Binghamton and Stony Brook, fellow America East programs, theoretically have the same institutional advantages of UAlbany.

What they don’t have is Marr.

As Nanticoke tells it, UAlbany’s coach is the No. 1 — and, perhaps, only — reason he signed with the Great Danes. Marr’s players, nearly universally, speak of feeling an instant connection with the coach so many describe as a second father.

“You go right up to him and you give him a hug,” Jack Burgmaster said of his first interaction with Marr. “I felt at home here, and I didn’t feel that way anywhere else.”

“After I found this place, I didn’t want to look anywhere else,” said UAlbany sophomore Jakob Patterson, an Arizona native the Great Danes originally connected with through a friend of Marr. “It felt like home.”

Marr prefers to credit the overall culture built at UAlbany — one he modeled after the one he saw up close as an assistant at Maryland built under the recently-deceased Dick Edell — rather than strictly to himself for the Great Danes’ success.

His players, though, see those two things as one and the same.

“It’s the culture he brings,” Troy Reh said.

And Marr has brought these Great Danes together, a team that spent more than a month ranked No. 1 in the nation and is one of the favorites this season to win a national championship.

To make all that happen? Well, Marr goes back to another Plinko reference.

“Everything,” Marr said, “has to fall into place.”

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

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