ALBANY – UAlbany was a winner in more ways than one on Wednesday night.
Between the endlines, the Great Danes played well enough to win their first game of the young men’s lacrosse season, 11-7 over local rival Siena. And in the larger sense, the reunion of UAlbany coaches on both sidelines left everyone with a good feeling.
All of Siena’s staff – head coach Liam Gleason and assistants Tim Cox, Derrick Eccles and Mike Russell – graduated from UAlbany and played for head coach Scott Marr.
“The whole Albany coaching staff and all that other stuff was really neat,” Marr said. “It was good to see those guys.”
“It was a special game for sure,” Gleason said. “It was good to see our guys battle what I feel is a real strong team.”
Gleason said it was a fun experience coaching against Marr for the first time in his four years as Siena’s head coach.
“I really tried not to even look at him,” Gleason said, chuckling. “Except for one time when there was a penalty, we both maybe disagreed on what the penalty was and had a little exchange. But at the end of the day we’re giving each other big hugs.”
The game also had a special meaning for Siena’s Nick Pepe, whose younger brother Wil plays for UAlbany. Nick Pepe finished with two goals.
“It’s cool,” the elder Pepe said. “I remember always coming to these games as a younger guy. To play in it, it was awesome.
“They’re full of smiles,” he added about his parents. “They’re so proud of both Wil and I.”
UAlbany improved to 1-2 by combining strong defense with opportunistic offense, as it finished 4 for 9 on extra-man opportunities.
“It’s huge,” Marr said of the extra-man goals. “We try to be 50% if we can.”
In the first quarter, UAlbany got two early unassisted goals from Graydon Hogg and then relied on their long-stick defenders to disrupt Siena, which only took seven shots in the quarter, and just two of them were on goal.
“Defensively, I thought we did real well, and Tommy [Heller] in goal, especially the first quarter,” Marr said. “We were able to get a 3-0 lead, and that catapulted us the rest of the way.”
Jack Pucci added the third goal.
Siena (1-4) rallied in the second quarter, scoring a man-up goal by Christian Watts and one from Shaker High graduate Nick Pepe to close UAlbany’s lead to 4-3 with 4:58 left.
That’s when UAlbany’s man-up offense kicked into gear. Teioshontathe McComber cranked one in with 3:41 left, and Keelan Seneca added another one at 1:52 to give UAlbany a 6-3 halftime lead.
The Great Danes struck twice to open the third quarter on tallies from Tanner Hay and Amos Whitcomb, who finished with two goals and three assists. The Saints proceeded to chip away for the rest of the quarter, closing to 8-6 on goals by Pepe and two from Pratt Reynolds.
But Siena gave UAlbany a big chance early in the fourth quarter, with three penalties at once, giving the Great Danes a rare 6-on-3. Whitcomb passed across the crease to Camden Hay for a crucial score.
“It was very important,” Whitcomb said. “You definitely got to bury the ball.”
Later, Reynolds’ third goal cut UAlbany’s lead to 10-7 with 5:46 left, but Siena couldn’t take advantage of more of its 14 shots in the quarter and allowed UAlbany’s last goal after a broken 10-man ride.
“The penalties were just late hits, guys trying to finish plays,” Gleason said. “It was pretty close there at the end, we just didn’t bury those opportunities.”
Marr said he was very pleased with the play of Heller, who finished with 11 saves.
Looking ahead, UAlbany plays at UMass on Tuesday before taking on the No. 1-ranked team in the country, Maryland, on March 12. Marr is glad the team got a win under its belt.
“Just to get some confidence, to get that winning feeling, knowing you can do things right,” Marr said. “It definitely was a really, really important game for us.”
Siena 0 3 3 1 – 7
UAlbany 3 3 2 3 – 11
Siena scoring: Reynolds 3-0, Pepe 2-0, Kiernan 1-1, Watts 1-0, Julien 0-2, Rusnak 0-1, Van Schepen 0-1. UAlbany scoring: Whitcomb 2-3, Hogg 2-0, Seneca 1-3, McComber 1-0, Pucci 1-0, Moran 1-0, Decker 1-0, C.Hay 1-0, T.Hay 1-0. Goalies: Siena, Yanchoris, 11 saves. UAlbany, Heller, 11 saves.