ALBANY — Whatever it takes to get onto the field.
That’s been the guiding mentality for freshmen Tanner Hay and Corey Yunker ahead of Saturday’s season-opening game for the University at Albany men’s lacrosse team.
So far, it has served them well.
“Absolutely,” UAlbany head coach Scott Marr said after last Friday’s scrimmage against Siena in response to a question asking if the pair of rookie Great Danes had put themselves in position to play right away.
“Both of them,” Marr added, “just have really high IQs for the game.”
That quality has allowed — forced, perhaps — the UAlbany coaching staff to figure out ways to find playing time for Hay and Yunker on a team that still boasts plenty of talent despite its significant personnel losses from a season ago. The 6-foot-4 Hay was used in UAlbany’s three scrimmages in a variety of defensive roles, while the 5-foot-9 Yunker has emerged as a playmaker off the bench for the Great Danes.
“It’s been a lot of fun with these guys so far. There’s a great atmosphere here with coach Marr, coach [Merrick] Thomson and coach [John] Maloney,” Yunker said. “They’ve done a great job just getting us ready and getting us feeling like we have a great shot when we go out to Syracuse.”
“And I just can’t wait to get out to the [Carrier] Dome and play that first college game,” Hay said.
Hay was widely considered UAlbany’s top recruit in its latest group of freshmen, and the UAlbany coaching staff has been creative in coming up with ways to find playing time for him. While Hay doesn’t project to play a lot of close defense as a freshman, his athleticism and stick skills look to be leading him to see game action as a long-stick midfielder, in man-down opportunities and on faceoffs.
“And if I’m going to see the field playing all that, I’m going to do that,” Hay said.
For Yunker, finding playing time is more difficult because UAlbany’s starting attack of junior Mitch Laffin, sophomore Tehoka Nanticoke and junior Jakob Patterson is a tough group to break into for a freshman. Marr, though, likes the way Yunker can initiate offense from behind the goal, and that skill should help Yunker earn playing time right away.
“My mindset was just to come in, do the work every day and always play hard,” Yunker said. “These guys, it’s been great playing off them and just doing what I’m good at. It’s been awesome. My teammates are so good, they make it easy to play off them.”
UAlbany is ranked No. 14 in the coaches poll and No. 15 in the media poll ahead of Saturday’s opener at Syracuse, which is No. 20 in the media poll and fell out of the coaches poll following its season-opening loss to Colgate last weekend.
After his team’s scrimmage against Siena, Marr said his squad remains a “work in progress” and that the Great Danes “still have a ways to go.” Freshmen such as Hay and Yunker, though, have helped leave Marr confident the Great Danes are building toward having the type of quality depth the program has had in recent years.
“Practice doesn’t feel any different than it has the last six, seven years,” Marr said.