Posted Thursday, March 29, 2007 by .
The evolution of the Great Danes (IL)
March 28, 2007
Dick Edell doesn’t like what he sees.
A month ago, in what has been traditionally billed as the premier early-season match up between two of the game’s highest scoring teams, Virginia eeked past Syracuse, 11-8. Not bad, but not what we expected. But it was early, right? Both teams had yet to find their offensive groove, right?
Consider this: in last Saturday’s Virginia-Hopkins game, both teams combined for just five second-half goals to close things out at 7-5. Duke, whose attack pairs arguably the game’s best player with the ACC’s record-holder for goals scored in a single season, beat Georgetown 6-5. A few days prior, the Devils lost to Cornell 7-6.
“I’d rather watch a good women’s game,” says Edell, the ex-Maryland coach.
And with women’s teams like Maryland and Duke combining for nearly 40 goals in a single game and players like Hopkins’ Mary Key dropping six goals and seven assists against Oregon last week, who’s to blame him?
To some like Coach Edell, changes in the men’s game such as the evolution in stick design, the sophistication of team defensive schemes and the athletes within those schemes, and a shift in the coaching ethos toward a slower, more micromanaged gameday approach have all combined to take the air out of what was once known as “the fastest game on two feet.”
“I don’t know how we’re ever going to get it back,” laments Edell, referring to the up-tempo, high scoring days of the past. Other coaches, like Georgetown’s Dave Urick, share similar concerns, wishing that sometimes they could just “roll the ball out there and see what happens.”
But the game still has its purists. Albany’s head coach Scott Marr is one of them.
“Scotty is a proponent of playing the game,” says Edell, for whom Marr served as offensive coordinator for six years at Maryland. “You know [playing for Marr] as an offensive player that you are going to get a chance to play the game the way it was meant to be played.”
One can’t thumb through the Maryland record books without coming across names like Matt Hahn, Andrew Whipple and Scott Hochstadt, the All American attackmen who served as Marr’s core offensive unit in the mid-1990s.
“As an assistant coach at Maryland, he put up some huge totals with Hahn and Whipple. He’s proven to be a guy who can create goal-scoring totals,” says Quint Kessnich, a former teammate of Marr’s on Johns Hopkins’s 1987 championship team. Hahn was still Maryland’s all-time leader in goals scored before Joe Walters slipped past him last year.
According to Marr, playing at Yorktown High School (NY) under the legendary Jim Turnbull influenced his own approach to offense.
”Coach [Turnbull] coached during the week and he gave us freedom to create on our own when we played. He gave us a lot of concepts to work with, not necessarily strategy,” he says.
As a result, Marr has developed his own offensive blend that stresses creativity and a more free-form approach, rather than chain-ganging his players with too many X’s and O’s. Albany is currently averaging over 14 goals a game and has seen scoring contributions from more than 60% of its players, including goalie Brett Queener, who picks up a short-stick during the Danes’ extra-man opportunities.
“He will not be one of those guys that’s going to micromanage every play. It’s appealing for a young offensive player,” says Edell, who goes on to invoke the name of another New York coach known for letting his players run and gun when the vibe was right.
“I think he always admired Roy Simmons Jr. Just play, baby. You know?”
Albany sent shockwaves across the DI landscape
with a season-opening win over then-No. 1 Johns
Hopkins. (File Photo: Jay VanRensselaer)
After six years and three NCAA championship appearances under Edell, Marr got the itch to run his own show. Word came from the father of a childhood friend that then-DII University of Albany was making the move to Division I and was currently in the market for a new head coach.
“It looked like a good opportunity,” says Marr, who was particularly attracted to Albany’s ability to offer talented in-state players an affordable education at a solid school. He took the position the fall before Albany’s first year of Division I play.
First impressions, coach?
“Why did I leave Maryland?!” Marr says with a laugh. ”My first tryout we had about 70 kids and the level of play wasn’t quite the same,” he remembers. “But we’re not in a hotbed of lacrosse…we quickly had to turn around the culture, the attitude, and the work ethic.”
Marr would have little help establishing any culture, though, with no full-time assistant coaching staff. His team also lacked proper locker room facilities, stands, and even a home field, which was probably only a minor inconvenience due to the lack of general interest in the lacrosse team on campus.
Every day, the players were bussed to nearby Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for practice and then to Union College on the weekends for its “home games.”
“You can imagine what it was like,” says Dr. Lee McElroy, Albany’s Director of Athletics. “You practice at a different place than you compete. And you’re so far away from the campus that you hardly have any student support at your games.”
But since that inaugural DI season, Albany’s administration has provided a case study on how to build a successful athletic program by making a significant financial investment in the team, its coaches, and its home facilities.
“When I hired him he kept telling me, ‘I can get there,’” says McElroy, who bought into Marr’s enthusiasm and did his part to help Marr build his program a step at a time.
It started with what McElroy calls “fundamental assets”; securing full-time assistant coaches, freeing up money to offer more scholarships and to upgrade Albany’s home facilities, and, most importantly, giving the players the chance to compete among the best in the nation.
Although the first three assets were essentially in the hands of Albany’s administrative brass, Marr held up his end of the bargain, making small strides every year to improve the product he put out on the field by scheduling road games against the big boys of Division I lacrosse, with little regard for his own ego or pride when his team would end up getting pasted.
“Every year he raised the bar a little bit,” says McElroy. “And that’s what all great coaches do. They continue to raise the bar. They are never satisfied.”
Slowly, the Danes collected wins over perennial Top 20 teams, beating both UMass and Delaware in Marr’s first three years, developing an intense conference rivalry with his old coach Don Zimmerman and UMBC, and, of course, the flagship win over Hopkins in the first game of this season.
Birth of a Tradition
Merrick Thomson (above) and linemate Frank
Resetarits "are special in that I've never seen two
crease guys that can find each other open so
often," says Marr. (File Photo: Jay VanRensselaer)
Currently, the Danes are off to the best start in the history of the program, 7-0, and are ranked fourth in the Nike/Inside Lacrosse Men’s Division I Media Poll. The offense carries the same scoring average that his Terps offense carried when they were winning ACC conference titles. Currently, they are one of only three undefeated teams in the Top 20.
And a decade after Hahn, Whipple, and Hochstadt, Marr has another trio of dangerous scorers under his stewardship in Derrick Dale, Frank Resetarits and Merrick Thompson. The latter two are a pair of former box players who have combined for over 375 points in their careers and have led the Danes to three America East conference championships and as many NCAA Tournament bids.
“Frank and Merrick are special in that I’ve never seen two crease guys that can find each other open so often,” says Marr. “They have the ability to make those tight passes in close when people are crashing down on them. They are so unselfish with each other…they’re not just finishers. They’re fun to watch, and we are taking advantage of every second that we have them.”
Fan support has picked up too, as home games at the newly christened Fallon Field on Albany’s campus are well-attended by both the student body and the local community.
“When Scott got in here, we may have had 20 kids coming to our events. We now have several hundred. In the last game against UMass, I counted eight buses of local high school lacrosse teams at the game. I’ve never had that before,” says McElroy.
On the national scene, Albany has become the standard bearer for the up-and-coming “mid-major programs” that the traditional lacrosse powers can no longer look past.
But Marr and Edell both agree that no one should jump to place Albany in their office pool’s final four just yet, as the Danes haven’t played past round one in each of their three tournament appearances.
“Four teams have won a national championship since 1991,” says Marr. “Until someone comes along and knocks one of those guys off in May, you can’t talk parity. But I’d like to think we can compete down the road.”
Something tells us that road might be just a bit shorter than the one to Union College.