Snow flurries fell and temperatures plummeted on a grim, gray late-March afternoon in Albany, but conditions were perfect for piling up statistics ... if Lyle Thompson were so inclined.
Thompson scored two early goals for the Albany men's lacrosse team that day, and it was clear that first-year Division I program UMass-Lowell was completely overmatched. Thompson, who was chasing the NCAA Division I career scoring record, could have named his point total, as the Great Danes breezed to a 24-0 victory. Instead, he went to the bench after the first quarter and never re-entered the game.
Record? What record?
"It doesn't really matter to me. I don't care about it at all," Thompson said when asked what it would mean to be the greatest Division I scorer in the history of a sport that has great meaning for him as a Native American from Onondaga Reservation near Syracuse. The senior attack echoed those sentiments on Saturday night after he scored seven points in Albany's 15-11 victory over Binghamton to tie Rob Pannell (Smithtown West/Cornell) with 354 points. "Honestly, I do not think about it too much," he said of the record he surely will break on Tuesday at Bryant.
"It's obviously something that will be cool to look back on and it'll be an honor to be ranked up there with all those great players that made a big impact on the game," Thompson said. "But what really matters most to me is making an impact on the game; making a difference to the next generation of lacrosse players coming up, especially the ones from the reservation."
So Albany coach Scott Marr has no playing-time issues with his transcendent star. "It was 9-0 at the end of the first quarter. If he was worried about breaking records, he wouldn't have asked me to take him out," Marr said after the UMass-Lowell game. "After the first quarter I asked him, 'How're you doing?' He said, 'I'm good.' That meant, 'Take me out.' The records don't matter to him."
Which is why in four one-sided games this season, Thompson played only 6½ quarters out of a possible 16. "That's more than two games that he missed and he's still the leading scorer in the country," Marr said. "When it's time to let someone else play, he's not going to go out there just to score goals. He's going to let the freshmen and sophomores get some experience. He's a very humble person."
Thompson, who shared last year's Tewaaraton Trophy as the nation's best player with his older brother Miles, leads the country in scoring (6.8 points per game) and assists (4.1 per game), a year after breaking the NCAA single-season scoring record with 128 points while playing on a line with Miles (an NCAA-record 82 goals) and cousin Ty (41 goals).
Lyle registered a career-best 10 assists in a 17-15 victory over Stony Brook on March 14, and the Great Danes and Seawolves are on a collision course to meet in the America East tournament final on May 2. He also scored a career-best nine goals against Harvard in a 21-18 shootout thriller on March 25.
He considers himself more feeder than shooter (45 assists, 30 goals this season) but against Harvard, he noted, "They didn't slide. It was me versus my defender. The kid covering me did a really good job, but the score sheet didn't show that."
Thompson then grinned, shrugged modestly and said, matter-of-factly, "One on one, I'm going to get my shot. I'm either going to score or pick the guy who's going to score."
That's been evident this season, the first in his college career when he hasn't played on an all-Thompson line. His presence -- and incredible skills -- have allowed Connor Fields and Seth Oakes to become two of the leading goal-scorers in the country, a primary reason Albany is ranked No. 8 nationally.
"It was an adjustment. In the fall, he was playing with brand-new kids," Marr said. "But now, they're great together. They have a great connection. You saw his leadership skills come out. He was our offensive leader the past couple of years, but he had Miles and Ty. Now it's just him."
Of being the last Thompson standing (his older brothers Jeremy and Jerome also were college lacrosse stars), he acknowledged, "I miss playing with them, especially the little things that we had, but I knew it would be different. At first, we tried to train those guys[Fields and Oakes] to be like Miles and Ty. That was the wrong approach. Now I've adjusted to them and they've adjusted to me. In every game, it's how the defense plays me. Either they get the goals or I get the goals."
And all of Lacrosse Nation gets treated to a crowd-pleasing, wonderfully creative style of no-look passes and backhand shots that is part of Thompson's legacy. "Every game you've got kids asking me for autographs," said Thompson, who signs and poses for photos long after games, no matter the weather. "I want to entertain them and play the way I'm supposed to play."
Another part of Thompson's legacy is that he is a trailblazing role model for Native Americans on reservations everywhere. "I think every Native American who goes off to college feels that. Because there are not too many of us that do go away," Thompson said. "Any of us that plays at a high level, we feel that we should go back to whatever reservation we are from and influence those kids to go off to school and be successful."
Marr believes Thompson deals with that burden as well as he deals with opposing defenses. "There's no question he's the leader in their community. He's the guy they look up to. He's handled it unbelievably, with all the pressure that can bring," his coach said. "He wants to spread the game and he wants to spread it the right way. He wants to be that ambassador."
Marr has a special bond with Thompson that goes beyond star player/grateful coach. Thompson has two daughters that are friendly with Marr's youngest daughter. "It's been neat that way and I'll miss him when he goes, no doubt," Marr said. "Hopefully, that won't be until the last weekend of the season."
Taking Albany to its first Final Four on May 23-25 in Philadelphia would mean much more to Thompson than the career scoring record. And it would add more glitter to an already shimmering legacy.
NCAA Division I men's career scoring leaders
(Through games of April 11)
Lyle Thompson, Albany (2012-15), 354
Rob Pannell, Cornell (2009-13), 354
Matt Danowski, Duke (2004-08), 353
Joe Vasta, Air Force (1983-86), 343
Tim Nelson, NC State/Syracuse (1982-85), 320
NCAA Division I men's career assist leaders
Tim Nelson, NC State/Syracuse (1982-85), 221
Darren Lowe, Brown (1989-92), 205
Rob Pannell, Cornell (2009-13), 204
Lyle Thomson, Albany (2012-15), 201
Chris Cameron, Lehigh (1986-89), 185