May 10, 2013

Want Offense? Look West to Albany-Denver Matchup

by Patrick Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

Denver has balance with three 30-goal scorers — Wes Berg (above), Eric Law and Cam Flint — while Albany brings undeniable star power to Colorado with the Thompson trio.

Albany unabashedly pushes the pace as much as anyone in college lacrosse.

Denver is at its best when it opts to run rather than get forced into a more plodding game.

It sets up the possibility of Saturday's NCAA tournament first round game between the teams could be the most entertaining of the weekend — and perhaps the highest scoring.

"I think 17-16 would be a slow-down game," Denver coach Bill Tierney said. "On the other hand, you have three great goalies [the Pioneers use two, Jamie Faus and Ryan LaPlante], some pretty good defenses, they have some fantastic two-way middies and we have a good set of defensive midfielders. It depends on how things bounce. It could be a 12-11 game."

It certainly shouldn't be dull as the fourth-seeded Pioneers (12-4) seek their third consecutive quarterfinal appearance while the visiting Great Danes (13-4) play their first NCAA game since 2007.

It has a chance to be memorable at the individual level as well. Albany sophomore Lyle Thompson is six points from tying former UMBC star Steve Marohl's single-season Division I record of 114 points set in 1992. Thompson enters the tournament with 46 goals and 62 assists, and he averages 6.75 points per game.

Thompson's record chase is hardly a priority for the Great Danes, particularly considering the talent surrounding him. Brother Miles (42 goals and 25 assists in 11 games) is also averaging more than six points a game. Cousin Ty leads Albany in scoring with 51 goals.

"I think it's a credit to Lyle and his teammates how they've worked and how well they have played and our goalie and defense getting us the ball," coach Scott Marr said. "It's a complete team effort. It's awesome. Lyle is a unique player."

The Thompsons' familiarity certainly enhances Albany's ability to race up and down the field. The Great Danes reached the 20-goal plateau four times in the regular season, and managed 19 goals on two other occasions.

Against other postseason teams, Albany edged both Syracuse (16-15) and Bryant (17-15) while losing by a wide margin to Yale (15-8). And while there's no question how the Great Danes would like this game to unfold, the Pioneers will play a role in how attractive the game is for fans of high-scoring contests.

"It's up to Denver how fast they want to play," Marr said. "I could certainly see us scoring goals. Denver plays a different style than we do. Offensively, they're gifted and they're crafty and they do a lot of movement and stuff like that."

Albany's undeniably a star-driven offense, much like Denver was a year ago when Mark Matthews had 20 more goals than any of his teammates. But this season is different, and the Pioneers enjoy more balance with three 30-goal scorers — Wesley Berg (44 goals), Eric Law (33) and Cameron Flint (32).

Denver also played without midfielder Jeremy Noble for almost the entire second half of the regular season because of injury, though he returned in the Pioneers' ECAC loss to Ohio State and scored a goal on his only shot.

That could provide a significant lift in the postseason, though it is uncertain how much Noble will play Saturday.

"We're going to see him play," Tierney said. "I don't know what that means. It's just better to have him in there than in street clothes. ... I know it was a spark when Jeremy went in there."

The versatile Noble's return offers an extra element for the Pioneers, who despite getting dragged into less frenetic games in recent weeks are built to thrive in high-scoring games much like Albany.

The Great Danes lead the nation in scoring at 16.06 goals per game. Denver, ranked sixth nationally a 12.31 goals an outing, is the highest-scoring team Albany has encountered all season.

So could it turn into an offensive showcase? Marr certainly wouldn't mind, and it's not difficult to imagine Tierney turning the Pioneers loose as well.

"If we try to run and gun it could really hurt us, but on the other hand, do we want to slow it down and do something [different than usual]," Tierney said. "I've learned that if you try to change during the playoffs, it is a mistake."


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