ALBANY — For a span of six seasons, the University at Albany men’s lacrosse program won an average of 14 games each year. That stretch culminated in a trip to the 2018 national semifinals, a crowning achievement for head coach Scott Marr’s program.
A year after that tournament run, UAlbany’s six-year streak of playing in the NCAA tournament has come to an end. The Great Danes struggled throughout a 5-9 campaign, their worst since going 5-11 in 2012. Personnel departures hit the Great Danes hard after the 2018 season, but UAlbany still had enough talent to win the America East Conference it dominated in recent years.
“We had kids that were capable,” Marr said Tuesday, five days after UAlbany’s season ended with a 13-9 loss to Vermont in the conference tournament semifinals. “It comes down to our will to win and will to work hard.”
But, Marr said, blame for a season that didn’t meet the standard of the program belongs to one person. It’s Marr’s program and has been for 19 seasons, and he said it’s up to him to figure out how to make his Year 20 with the Great Danes a winning one.
“Everything begins and ends with me. I take full responsibility for us not being able to ever get over that hump. I have to motivate the team better or teach them better. We have to find ways to get past those things,” Marr said. “Every offseason, it starts off with an evaluation of yourself first. I have to find out what I did well and what I did poorly, and I’ve got to move forward from there.”
An end-of-season team meeting is set for Wednesday, and meetings with individual players will follow. While there were bright spots for UAlbany in 2019, such as junior Jakob Patterson winning America East Offensive Player of the Year and junior Nate Siekierski proving himself to be a solid goalie, the program also has plenty of questions to answer as it moves forward. Atop that list is what the Great Danes can expect going forward from sophomore Tehoka Nanticoke who starred as a freshman before going through a rocky sophomore year that started with him missing the fall practice season for “personal reasons.”
“I think he’s got to go back and reevaluate his game, just like everybody else,” Marr said of Nanticoke, who the coach moved for a large portion of the season from attack to midfield. “Look at what he did well and what he didn’t do well, and put himself in a better position to play better next year. Facts are facts and numbers are numbers, [and] we just didn’t score as much as we did the year before.”
That was the case for the Great Danes, and that negative shift was expected to some degree because of the losses of attackman Connor Fields to graduation and faceoff specialist TD Ierlan to transfer. Nanticoke, though, was supposed to take over for Fields as the team’s top offensive creator. Instead, that role mainly shifted to Patterson, as Nanticoke went from scoring 82 points in 19 games as a freshman to 38 points in 12 games as a sophomore. Nanticoke missed one game during the 2019 season because of an NCAA eligibility issue and was benched for another.
Marr — who, notably, clashed with the NCAA over Nanticoke’s eligibility issue — is still confident, though, that Nanticoke has the ability to become a transcendent player for the program.
“I surely think he has the potential to be a very, very good player. We’ll have to see,” Marr said. “It didn’t translate this year, but, again, missing the fall probably wasn’t great for him developmentally wise, and to develop with his teammates. Hopefully, he comes in next fall and starts to develop a better chemistry and we can go from there.”
UAlbany will lose several key contributors from 2018 to graduation including midfielders Jack Burgmaster and Sean Eccles, and defenseman Matt Perla. The Great Danes relied more on its two younger classes of players, though, as the 2019 season went along and projects to bring in one of its stronger recruiting classes in several years for next season.
Marr isn’t predicting a return to championship weekend for 2020, but he also doesn’t think UAlbany’s 2018 trip represented a one-and-done opportunity for the program. There’s ample work ahead for the Great Danes to return to the heights they reached last May, but Marr thinks they’re capable of handling it.
“We have the ability to get back to that level,” Marr said. “We had a really good run, and I don’t think we’re down for the count.”
If UAlbany does get back to that level, Marr said the Great Danes’ 2019 season will be important for the program to remember in terms of “how do you handle success?”
Marr said: “We’ve got to figure out a way to handle it better next time.”
That figuring out starts now, Marr said, and it starts at the top after a five-win season that saw UAlbany lose four of its final five games and all of its last three.
“But it’s over. We have to learn from it, but we also have to move forward from it — and, unequivocally, that starts with me,” Marr said. “Obviously, I didn’t do as good of a job as I did in the past. I need to do a better job.”