Albany’s Thompson Trio Captivated Lacrosse World, And Impact Could Change the Game
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The Thompson Trio’s storied run has come to an end and, with it, the excitement that had surrounded the talented Great Danes attack unit.
Senior cousins Miles and Ty Thompson — both recently drafted by Major League Lacrosse’s Rochester Rattlers — saw their college careers finish up on the turf at Hofstra University as Albany’s five-goal lead was eroded in the fourth quarter, and the Great Danes were ousted by Notre Dame in the extra period.
The entire world of lacrosse seemed to be watching them.
“You could take a loss in two ways,” said Lyle Thompson, a junior this season and the youngest of the Thompson Trio. “Either hang your head or look back and think positive. I know I gave it my all. I played my best, and we all did. But playing with Miles and Ty—in the end of the day, I just hate to see our team hang our head. We went out there we did our best. Just like coach (Scott Marr) said, we have to accept the outcome.”
While the sting of disappointment will be difficult to shake, what the Thompson Trio did for the Albany program and, on a greater scale, the sport of lacrosse, will never be forgotten.
“I hope there are lots of kids in backyards right now trying to do one-handed shots, and lots of kids on reservations saying ‘I want to play in college.’,” Denver coach Bill Tierney said after seeing the Thompson’s last performance together.
Just a week after making history in the Danes’ dominating upset win over Loyola, Miles and his younger brother, Lyle, added to their accomplishments versus Notre Dame.
Entering the game with 79 goals, Miles needed three more to tie the Division I single-season goals record of 82 held by John Reese, who set that milestone back in 1990 playing at Yale. Miles tied it Saturday, with his 82nd goal coming on a behind-the-back shot.
Lyle took the field Saturday needing just three assists to tie the Division I single-season assists record of 77 helpers set by Steve Marohl at UMBC back in 1992. Lyle got his third of the day to match Marohl’s record with an eye-popping rope of a pass across the Notre Dame defense to his cousin Ty with just three seconds left in the third quarter, putting Albany up 10-7.
With more than 13,500 fans in attendance, the Thompsons put on yet another unforgettable display of lacrosse mastery. Two of Lyle’s goals were electrifying backhand shots as he barely looked at the net. Miles, in addition to his behind-the-back goal, scored another goal as he was falling to the ground with defenders all over him.
An ESPN banner draped near the midfield line featured the popular #SCTop10—a hashtag commonly associated with the Thompson Trio this season as they pulled off numerous plays that ended up on SportCenter’s daily highlights. During the game,#ThompsonTrio was trending on Twitter thanks to lacrosse fans who were apparently swept up in the thrill of it all as they rooted for the three Native American players and their team.
Former Tewaaraton winner Peter Baum Tweeted during the game that he was watching the Thompsons alongside fellow Tewaaraton winner and MLL player Steele Stanwick: “Watching the Thompson bros w/ @steelewick and our jaws have been on the floor for the past two hrs. It’s just plain silly.”
Two of this year’s five Tewaaraton Trophy finalists, Lyle and Miles Thompson in their final college game together each increased their monstrous point production to numbers that might not be touched for years.
Lyle finishes his junior season with 128 points on 51 goals and 77 assists, building on his Division I single-season points record with six more Saturday. His career points total now stands at 279, and with a year of eligibility remaining, he could conceivably set a new all-time career mark in 2015. He trails Rob Pannell’s 354 points by 75 and has averaged more than 120 points over the past two seasons.
Miles pushed his season totals to 82 goals and 37 assists, putting him second on the all-time Division I single-season points record chart. He also set a new career goals record at Albany with 189, passing the 188 goals Merrick Thomson netted in his career. Miles’ 293 career points puts him right above Casey and Ryan Powell, who both finished with 289 points in their careers at Syracuse.
Ty’s 41 goals, 11 assists and 52 points gives him 194 for his career and compiles to give the Thompson Trio a staggering 174 goals, 125 assists and 299 points in 2014. As of Monday, the 299 combined points for the Thompsons represented more goals and assists than 53 entire Division I teams were able to amass so far this season.
“It was the No. 1 scoring offense two years in a row,” Marr said. “It was just is amazing to watch them counteract everything that was thrown at them this season. … These three were the target of everything every team we played was planning to do. When you’re the focus of a defense every week and you still put numbers like that, it’s incredible. You really could not stop them. You might have been able to contain them in a game here or game there, but really you couldn’t stop them from making plays for our team and producing points.”
Garnering attention from the likes of the New York Times, Fortune Magazine, the Associated Press, ABC World News and CBS Evening News, the Thompsons—a family well documented by Inside Lacrosse in the past five years—became the sensation of the sport. Entering the season, Inside Lacrosse dubbed the Thompsons and this version of the Albany squad “The Greatest Danes.”
“They’re just like Paul and Gary (Gait) and Casey (Powell) and all great players,” Marr said. “They didn’t let that stuff affect them and I think these guys stayed really, really humble with all the attention they got.”
Each members of the 2012 Iroquois Nationals U-19 team, the Thompsons’ heritage and cultural background made their story that much more intriguing. The fact they are family members who played on the same attack unit only enhanced their allure.
The national media attention from non-lacrosse outlets on the Thompsons and their eye-popping offensive production might never been seen again in lacrosse. As Marr described early in the post-season, the Thompsons’ story is “unheard of.”
Though the statistical records are what will keep them in the history books, the Thompson Trio’s greater impact might be felt in years to come. As former single-season points record holder Steve Marohl said, the Thompsons have likely left a lasting impression of lacrosse at its best for a young generation of players who are growing up with more access to the sport than what the Thompsons themselves had.
“The next generation may play their style. The kids are going to mimic their style; you’ll see the game become a bit more exciting,”Marohl told Inside Lacrosse’s Matt Kinnear.
Tierney coached an attack group at Princeton regarded as one of the best of all time: Jesse Hubbard, Jon Hess and Chris Massey. But yet Tierney was awed by the Thompsons when his team met Albany in the playoffs last season. He believes the Thompson Trio’s impact is only matched by one of the greatest figures in the history of the sport.
“I think what these guys have done is only matched by Gary Gait,” Tierney said, referring to the acrobatic style the Thompsons have displayed. “When Gary did the Air Gait, it drew all that attention, and people got it because it’s hard to do an Air Gait, but more because of the beauty of the game.”
Tierney, who is coaching another standout Iroquois player this season in freshman Zach Miller, said he believes the Native American population is one of the most maligned and oftentimes forgotten minorities in the country. He said the Thompsons impact should be felt for years to come as young Iroquois players look to follow their lead, applauding Marr for allowing the Thompsons to “play the way they play.”
“It’s a turnover once in a while, but it’s beautiful in the impact it’s hopefully going to have, both from what people see in them and see in the beauty of the game and why they play the game. … Everybody wishes—except for Notre Dame—not because of Albany per se, but for the game itself that they could have seen them one more time next week. ”
There was no shortage of excitement for the Thompsons Saturday at Hofstra. Each time the team entered or exited the field, hundreds of young fans were lined up by the gates to get a look at the Thompsons and try to bump fists with them.
“Throughout the season, I feel like it’s kind of been like that,” Lyle Thompson said. “We’ve got a good crowd wether we were on the road or at home. But today to see that big crowd and a lot of kids shaking our hands and cheering us, going for Albany. That kind of stuff, it just feels good, to know we’re helping change the game and we’re influencing younger kids to do better, or whatever way we’re influencing them, that feels good.”
Marr will remember this team, especially the senior class, for altering fans’ view of the sport.
“I’m very prod of my program my seniors and what they’ve done,” Marr said. “I think we’ve changed they way people look at lacrosse and the style you play with, and I’m proud of them for that. … It’s supposed to be creative and fun.”
Miles Thompson said he, his cousin and his brother were grateful for the opportunity to play lacrosse together the way they’d grown up with it, learning from their family members, including Miles’ and Lyle’s father and their older brothers, Jeremy—who played at Onondaga Community College and later Syracuse—and Jerome Jr., who also starred at Onondaga.
“That’s the style of play we grew up playing,” Miles said. “People want to see that fast-paced game. Coach, he let’s us play that game. And it was fun to play that for him.”
Miles will return to Albany next season as an assistant coach. Marr hopes Miles can help coach the offensive players returning next season to play alongside Lyle as effectively as he did, as new players will fill out the Great Danes attack line.
“The way Lyle plays, he’s still going to draw the attention and he’s going to mesh well with the other guys around him, and they’ll finish for him,” Marr said. He referred to players like like Bennett Drake, a Canadian who played man-up for the Danes this season as a freshman and registered 13 goals and 3 assists, and Will Stenberg, a junior in 2014 who returns after notching 13 points.
Marr pointed out that Lyle showed his ability to operate without his brother last season, when Miles missed six games. In that stretch, Lyle still averaged better than six points a game.
“Lyle’s still a playmaker, and though that same connection won’t be there, I don’t think it will be that much different for him,” Marr said. “Miles coming back to coach will help those guys work with Lyle to get themselves in the right spots and to be prepared for the ball. … Lyle is the guy who makes things go. He’s still going to draw slides, get people open and get it to the right guy. It will just be a matter of guys finishing. … We’re still going to play a fast pace and push the ball and look to score as quick and as often we can.”
While it will certainly will be difficult for the Albany players and coaching staff to forget how close they were to a Final Four appearance this season, one more potential major headline for the Thompsons could come on May 29 in Washington, D.C. at the Tewaaraton Trophy banquet and award ceremony.
With a pair of tremendous performances against two of the nation’s best defenses in the NCAA tournament the previous two weekends, Lyle Thompson most likely solidified himself as the favorite for the award to be given out at the National Museum of the American Indian.
Though the Great Danes missed their chance to put their skills on display at the Final Four on the game’s biggest stage, the program’s first Tewaaraton Trophy — the first ever for a Native American — would be a fitting end to an incredible run led by three players so prodigal with talent that they brought more positive attention to lacrosse than any player or team in the sport’s history.
“You just don’t see a situation like this arising again anytime soon,” Marr said. “The fact they’re Native American and the roots of the game are sewn into the fabric of their entire families. I’m just so incredibly honored to be a part of so many people seeing what this sport is all about.”