Native American trio lead Albany into lacrosse quarterfinals at Hofstra

Stony Brook midfielder Lucas Rock and defender George Stony Brook midfielder Lucas Rock and defender George Benitez guard Albany attacker Lyle Thompson in an NCAA Division I America East Conference semifinal lacrosse game at LaValle Stadium on Thursday, May 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

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They are the magicians of men's college lacrosse, wielding their sticks like sorcerers' wands, turning opposing goalies and defenders into foils for their three-man act that features a rapid-fire, sleight-of-hand array of no-look passes, backhand shots and dizzying dodges. Next stop on the tour is Long Island for the Thompson Trio from the University at Albany: brothers Lyle and Miles and cousin Ty, who headline Saturday's NCAA Tournament Division I quarterfinal doubleheader at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium.

"They've opened the eyes of the lacrosse world and brought excitement to the sport with their fun and fast pace on offense," Albany coach Scott Marr said. "They're great for the game, great for the young kids. They're Native Americans playing the Native American game. It's been a great ride for all of us."

That's the backstory on the Thompsons, kids from the reservation of Onondaga County tribes in Central New York. Their message goes beyond lacrosse.

"People grew up watching us play. It's huge for us to go off to college," junior Lyle Thompson said. "All the attention we're getting influences Native Americans to excel at lacrosse. There's a lot of talent there. The problem is the education part. A lot of kids don't do the work and don't finish high school. I think we're influencing them to do the work and go on to college."

Marr said the Thompsons helped raise the profile of Albany's program. "They've meant the world to us since they got here," he said. So much so that unseeded Albany is the featured attraction at Hofstra. The Great Danes (12-5) will face sixth-seeded Notre Dame (10-5) at 2:30 p.m., following the opener between upstart Bryant (16-4) and seventh-seeded Maryland (12-3) at noon. A crowd of more than 10,000 is expected, most of them coming to see the Thompsons perform.

Lyle is No. 1 in the nation in scoring (an NCAA-record 122 points), assists (74) and assists per game (4.35). Miles is No. 1 in goals (79), goals per game (4.65) and is second in points (115). Ty is a superb finisher with 39 goals.

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"First and foremost, their lacrosse IQ and feel for the game is second to none," Marr said. "They have a sixth sense that most players don't have."

Lyle said it's because of the familiarity they have with each other. "We've been playing together since we were kids, more than any other Division I athletes," he said. "We know each other's tendencies. We know where each one is and where each one is going."

So Lyle doesn't even have to look to know that Ty is streaking back-door to the cage or Miles is maneuvering into position for one of his trademark behind-the-head shots that appear to be pure Showtime but in reality are pure instinct.

"I'm known for my backhand, but it's not about showing off," Miles said. "It's to give me a better angle to shoot."

In fact, Marr said, "It's never about showboating for them; it's about making the right play at the right time."

The Thompsons have done that often enough to bring the Great Danes to within one game of the school's first Final Four appearance. In a wide-open tournament in which Albany knocked out No. 1-ranked Loyola, Bryant shocked No. 2 Syracuse and traditional powers Virginia, Cornell and North Carolina also are gone, the Thompsons believe their show must go on. "This year, we have the right team. This is our year," Lyle said.

They surely will be the darlings of the large crowd at Hofstra. "They'll be there to watch us, to cheer for us and that'll definitely be a good feeling," Ty said. "It'll feel like a home game."

There will be magic in the air.

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