Great players want to play for the University at Albany lacrosse program.
“Kids we recruit aspire to be the next Lyle and Miles Thompson. The young guys we bring in want to emulate those kinds of guys, who set the bar very high for this program,” said University at Albany head coach Scott Marr, who was named the America East Conference Coach of the Year for the fifth time at Wednesday night’s men’s lacrosse awards celebration at the Desmond Hotel and Conference Center.
On the eve of the America East Conference tournament semifinals, set for tonight against fourth-seeded Hartford at Casey Stadium, one of Marr’s stars, senior goalie Blaze Riorden, was named the conference’s first-ever Defensive Player of the Year. The Great Danes also placed five players on the America East all-conference first team in Riorden, attackers Connor Fields and Seth Oakes, long-stick midfielder Troy Reh and defender Stone Sims.
Despite losing the graduated Lyle Thompson, considered one of the greatest collegiate lacrosse players of all time, Marr’s Great Danes (6-0, 12-2) have continued to be the big dogs of the conference. They are ranked fourth in the country by both major polls, and recently completed their fourth straight unbeaten league season.
The key is continuing to recruit star players.
“We’ve found a niche in bringing in really good players from New York and Canada. We have also recruited many outstanding Native Americans,” Marr said. “The confidence our guys get from playing with great players like Lyle Thompson gets passed on from year to year.”
Marr said that this year’s team, although slightly less prolific offensively, may be one of his best.
“I would compare this team to our 2007 championship team, because we are so balanced in every facet of the game,” Marr said. “When we had Lyle last year, we were averaging 17 to 18 goals a game. Now, we average maybe 13 or 14. But we have more balanced scoring with guys like Connor Fields and Seth Oakes. Plus, we get a lot of scoring from our midfielders. Our defense is just as good as it was in 2007, and of course, we’ve got Blaze Riorden in goal. He’s an outstanding leader and a great kid. He’s been on three conference championship teams already. We know we can depend on him.”
Riorden, a 2016 Tewaaraton nominee as the best player in the nation, is third in Division I in saves at 12.64 saves per game. He’s also sixth in save percentage (.575) and is second on the Great Danes’ all-time save list.
“I’m very grateful to be chosen the first America East Conference Defensive Player of the Year,” Riorden said. “Obviously, I couldn’t do this without my teammates. This year’s team is very versatile, and that takes a lot of the pressure off me. We have a total team effort this year. Believe me, we are not taking anything for granted. I’m taking it just one game at a time. All I’m thinking about right now is Hartford.”
Fields and Oakes give the Danes a strong 1-2 punch up front. Fields, also a Tewaaraton nominee, is third in Division I in points with 68 (39 goals, 29 assists). Oakes tops the team in goals with 43.
All-rookie team selection Zach Ornstein is 12th in Division I in ground balls per game and has won 56.7 percent of his faceoffs.
“This year’s team is one of our best because of our strength and depth at every position,” Marr said. “In a way, it’s easier to recruit now, because so many players want to come here and be just like some of the great players we’ve had here already.”
UAlbany is coming off a 15-14 overtime win at UMBC in the regular-season finale last Saturday. Hartford (3-3, 9-6) dropped a 13-9 decision to UAlbany in the regular season.
The Hawks are paced by freshman Dylan Jinks, the America East Conference Rookie of the Year, with 26 goals and 26 assists. Sophomore Griffin Feiner also has 26 goals, while sophomore Dylan Protesto leads all of Division I with a 71.1 percent faceoff rate to go along with 115 ground balls.
Second-seeded Stony Brook takes on third seed Vermont in the other semifinal at 4. The winners play for the championship Saturday at 10 a.m. at Casey Stadium.