At Ualbany, Defense Wins Championships

(Photo Courtesy of UAlbany Athletics)

Two seasons removed from UAlbany’s NCAA Final Four run and the buzz around the Danes just isn’t what it was during the Thompson era or the Connor Fields era. It is almost as if Scott Marr and the Danes have lost their luster, in a sense. 

From 2013-2018, UAlbany won five America East titles, made six NCAA Tournament appearances, which included three quarterfinal finishes and one semifinal finish. The memories of UAlbany being this dominant are still fresh in the minds of many, as we aren’t very far removed from that magical 2018 season at all. However, many do question whether the Danes will ever get back to that level of play or not.

With star-studded senior attackman Tehoka Nanticoke as the face of the franchise again this season, the pressure is on and expectations are high. 

Last season, UAlbany was 2-3 at the time the season was cancelled due to the Coronavirus Outbreak. In their final game before the season was halted, they gave Maryland a run for their money, only losing 14-13 in College Park, Md. 

While all eyes are certainly on Tehoka coming into his senior season, UAlbany’s defense might be just as big of a storyline coming into the season. 

The Danes’ top two returning poles are rising junior Tanner Hay (10GB/3CT) and rising senior Michael Kozar (4GB/2CT). Both were full-time starters for the first time last season and should take another step forward in their progression during this coming season. 

UAlbany picked up a huge addition to their defense this summer, landing Utah grad transfer goalie Lia Donnelly. He immediately fills the hole left by Nate Siekierski graduating after two seasons as the primary starter in between the pipes for the Danes. Donnelly, a Yorktown, N.Y. native, was a day one starter upon his arrival to Utah prior to the 2019 season, which was the Utes’ first as a DI program. The 5-foot-8, 165-pound goalie made a total of 225 saves with a .510 save percentage during his two-year career at Utah. 

While Donnelly has a strong chance to be the Danes’ starter in cage for the next two seasons, they also have sophomore Tommy Heller on the roster. He was their backup in 2020, seeing action in one game. 

But no matter who is in cage for the Danes in 2020, they must be on their A-game. Under Scott Marr, UAlbany has certainly been known more for their offense and hasn’t had such good defenses. But even when their defense was lackluster during those really good years in the 2010s, they always had a strong goalie to hold down the fort. Whether it was Blaze Riorden or JD Colarusso, they were able to get the job done and bail out the guys in front of them. 

The other huge piece that many will be watching at UAlbany this season is how they perform at the faceoff dot. Ever since losing TD Ierlan via transfer following that historic 2018 season, the Danes have struggled at the dot. Anthony Altimari went 34-81 (41%) in the Danes’ five games as a junior. Either he is going to have to take a step forward or backup Austin Jones, who played in one game as a junior in 2020, will need to step up and take over. They also have two freshmen coming in at that spot. 

The fact of the matter is, Albany will need to turn things around both on defense and at the faceoff dot if they want to win and get back to where they were. And while adding Donnelly is huge, it is hard to tell if it will be enough to force a turnaround for the Danes. 

However, the one area where they don’t need to worry too, too much is on the offensive side of the ball. 

The Danes go fast on offense and they have all the talent in the world to maintain their power on that end of the field. From Tehoka Nanticoke, who was having an incredible junior campaign (19G/8A) and was really hitting his stride before the season got shut down, to junior attackman Corey Yunker (10G/8A) and sophomore midfielder Graydon Hogg (11G/4A), who has shown some two-way potential, the Danes’ offense is strong and pretty youthful heading into 2021. 

Now, the only question is how big will Tehoka be for them in 2021? Can he pick up where he left off last season, have the breakout season we have all been waiting for, and lead this Danes squad back to the NCAA Tournament? Only time will tell, but he certainly has all the tools to take over a game at any point and make things happen that you have never seen on a lacrosse field before. 

*Note: The NCAA has granted an extra year to spring sport athletes. However, a full of every senior returning is unknown. If you know an impact player who is returning but was not mentioned in the above article please comment, DM, or email us. Thanks*


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