Last weekend, Albany opened their season against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome right after the Orange had been shocked by Colgate in their opening loss. In terms of off-field implications, this loss was a big deal. The NCAA Men’s Division I media poll reacted and many voters took Syracuse out of their top 20 completely. That included the USILA coaches poll, which usually isn’t as volatile as the media poll.
But on the field, things were different. Albany definitely had lower expectations coming off of their best season in school history, making it all the way to Championship Weekend. But they still have Tehoka Nanticoke as the centerpiece of their offense, which presented its own challenges for the Orange. But how did Syracuse respond after Week 1?
First off, what didn’t work against Colgate and then led to the loss? The biggest thing (literally) was dealing with the large lead built up by the efforts of Colgate’s 6’5″ Sam Cleveland and his fellow raiders. Even though Cleveland only scored two goals, his presence was felt and it created space for Colgate shooters all around. This a big reason why for 14 minutes of the first quarter, Colgate was scoring, and Syracuse was not. The adjustment made was moving the smaller, but better cover defender, Nick Mellen over to Cleveland for the second half. It largely worked, but it meant Nicky Petkevich and the midfield would need to generate points in the second. In goal, Junior Drake Porter took over responsibility in net this season and he had an OK day. There were a few he should have saved, but overall the responsibility really fell on the defense.
The types of things the defense especially were struggling with were closing out on shooters and getting ground balls. The first was a big part of why Porter’s number were as low as they were, but he still sat above 50 percent when all was said and done. There was one particular SSDM that almost refused to engage the shooter, resulting in an easy goal from the wing. I don’t care which school you are, that cannot happen in Division I if you want to win games. Loose balls on the other hand were terrible. It resulted in Colgate getting way more chances than they should have had. When they did get the ball, clearing was another big issue. Syracuse was looking rushed and making the decisions that a team who is worried about the clock will make. Throwing passes away and running into coverage were all too common. On offense, nobody was on the same page. Only one Syracuse goal that wasn’t man-up was assisted. Everything else relied on middie dodges or dodge from X where scoring solo was the only option.
Against Albany, nearly everything that needed to be fixed was. The biggest was how off-ball defense, especially the shorts sticks, played aggressively. It stood out because all too often, teams will slide when they should, but it will turn into a hand-off or they retreat once the primary defended regains proper position. In this game, the double team came and would not stop until something happened. Usually, it was a turnover or a scrum that generated a call from the ref. After the game, coach John Desko confirmed that this was part of the game plan going in. He described Albany as having more one-handed players than most teams, and felt the best approach was then they could slide to that hand, it would not leave them with any options if they kept on the double.
The other epic matchup was Tyson Bomberry versus Tehoka Nanticoke. These are just two big players with deep box lacrosse background going 1-on-1. Last year, Tehoka had the upper hand, so Bomberry said afterwards his plan was just to engage him soon and not let him build momentum or have more time to think. Most teams Albany plays will not have a player like Bomberry defending Tehoka, who understand how to play a box-style attack that well. But in this game, they had the right matchup and it showed. The biggest advantage of this matchup is that it allowed Nick Mellen to focus on their No. 2 attackman on the field who in this game was usually and sophomore or freshman with very little game experience. That turned this into a largely mid-field only offense that is not meant to be one dimensional.
In terms of clearing, Cuse was significantly more comfortable. The biggest emergence was of Peter Dearth from the SSDM. I’m not saying he’s Matt Abbott, but in this game, the longpoles were treating him like he was. It was much more of a throwback to ‘get it to the shortstick’ and Dearth would just go up the field. It’s something we just haven’t seen much of from the Orange lately as they like to use their poles and goalie to find a cutter crossing midline.
On offense, Syracuse moved the ball much better. Brad Voigt lit up the scoreboard, but it was the type of game you expect from someone with six goals. He was dominating at X or winning dodges all over. It was ball movement. What Voigt does better than nearly anyone on Syracuse is find seams in the defense. For this game, that meant looking where the 2nd slide was coming from and getting there as they were leaving. So when the ball worked its way over to him, he was virtually unguarded and nobody was able to close out on him fast enough to make a difference. He was doing this largely in the middle of the field, too, which was especially deadly for Albany.
Last year, Syracuse was on the other side of a game like this as their young team was facing a loaded Albany squad and lost 15-3. A reporter asked how much that loss fueled this particular game and the response was not entirely what I expected. Syracuse used the loss to Colgate to drive them this week, not last year. You could tell by the body language and nods across the podium that this wasn’t just generic PR lip service, either. That Colgate loss made a big impact. For Albany, Head Coach Scott Marr looked at this much more holistically. He mentioned how of all the years they have gone to the NCAA tournament, they are rarely started with a win against Syracuse and that this one game in no way defines their season. Which is absurdly true in this situation. As much as Albany struggled, they still are likely favorites to win their conference and get an NCAA bid. But that is still a long ways away.