ALBANY — It wasn’t a one-night wonder.
A day after the Premier Lacrosse League sold out Tom & Mary Casey Stadium, fans packed the facility Sunday for a second round of action — and one not completely built around former University at Albany men’s lacrosse stars returning home.
That type of support for the first-year league that travels from city to city is what Niskayuna High School graduate John Prendergast said he expected the PLL to find in Albany.
“It’s super-impressive to see everyone from the Albany area supporting lacrosse,” said Prendergast, who plays for the PLL’s Chrome. “I’m not a bit surprised because I know . . . this is a great market for lacrosse.”
The PLL generally doesn’t announce its overall weekend attendance until mid-week, so an attendance wasn’t announced for Sunday’s doubleheader that saw the Redwoods win 18-7 against the Chrome and the Archers score an 11-8 victory against the Whipsnakes. There were more vacant seats for Sunday’s games than Saturday’s matchup that saw the Atlas beat the Chaos, but the crowd remained enthusiastic and a large number of fans showed up hours before the doubleheader started to take part in fan-zone activities.
Most popular Sunday inside the PLL’s “Premier Zone” was a visit from former UAlbany players Connor Fields, Kyle McClancy, Troy Reh and Blaze Riorden to sign autographs and take pictures with fans. Also signing autographs during that session besides the Chaos players was Atlas member Trevor Baptiste, the NCAA’s all-time leader in faceoffs won who had a memorable faceoff battle against then-UAlbany star TD Ierlan in the national quarterfinals during the Great Danes run in 2018 to the national semifinals.
In Sunday’s action, two former Great Danes and Prendergast — a 2019 Duke graduate who helped lead Niskayuna to a state championship in 2015 — served as the day’s connections to Capital Region lacrosse. Along with Prendergast on the Chrome were former UAlbany stars Brett Queener and Ty Thompson.
“They [the PLL] already want to come back next year to Albany, so it gives our fans a chance to show how much we care about the game,” said Ty Thompson, whose cousin and former UAlbany teammate Miles Thompson played Saturday night for the Chaos. “The ‘Dane Train’ is going to keep coming, and I’m looking forward to [how] things progress.”
Paul Rabil, a PLL co-founder and member of the Atlas, said the first-year league had learned many lessons regarding its “business model” and how the league should move forward. He noted that the two times the PLL achieved sellout crowds during its 10-week regular season was when the league visited the stadiums of UAlbany and Johns Hopkins University, and suggested the league could lean more on playing at college venues in future seasons.
“It was amazing. The crowd was electric. The energy was here,” Rabil said after Saturday’s game. “We knew it was tracking well here. As soon as we’d announced it, we had a bunch of people inquire about it.”
Going forward, Rabil said the PLL will continue with its touring approach rather than developing home cities for its teams. Fans, he said, have traveled to make sure they see the six-team PLL; Rabil said approximately 25% of the league’s attendance each week is made up of fans from more than 200 miles from the weekend’s venue.
“The best thing [about the PLL] is our intent to bring the best players in the world to a first-class experience with fans all over the country,” said Rabil, whose league next plays Sept. 6 when its postseason starts in Columbus, Ohio.
Queener, a 2008 UAlbany graduate who made 18 saves in Sunday’s game, said he’s been encouraged with how fans have responded to the PLL. The league’s trip to Albany wrapped its 10-week regular season, and the low weekend attendance in the first nine weeks was 10,097 and the high was 16,701.
“I think it’s been amazing,” Queener said. “I think some areas have had better crowds than others, but every week there’s been an energy level that I haven’t experienced in my 12 years of playing professional lacrosse.”
Playing professional lacrosse for the first time, Prendergast said it’s been a memorable summer. That so many young kids were at Casey Stadium, many wearing gear representing Capital Region lacrosse programs, added to that experience.
“I’m proud to be out here,” Prendergast said.