A new professional lacrosse league is heading to Albany this weekend. It will be a homecoming of sorts for a number of former University at Albany players.
Connor Fields and Blaze Riorden are two of eight UAlbany men’s lacrosse alumni coming back to Casey Stadium. This time they’ll be donning the jerseys of the Premier Lacrosse League instead of the purple and gold of the Great Danes.
“Obviously we’d love to see highlight reel stuff from Miles or from Connor, Kyle McClancy, Troy Reh, Blaze, have a great day, Brett Queener hopefully gets in the goal, runs out of the goal, maybe gets an assist,” said UAlbany Men’s Lacrosse Coach Scott Marr. “It’ll be a lot of fun. Obviously we want the Albany guys to do really well. And they have been. They’ve been a really good bright spot for the league.”
Marr has led UAlbany’s men’s lacrosse program since 2000. Marr says when he arrived in New York’s Capital Region there were only about a dozen high school lacrosse teams, but the sport has grown since and that rise in popularity is why the PLL is stopping by. And UAlbany’s 10 NCAA tournaments, including one Final Four, haven’t hurt, either.
“They basically picked the cities they wanted to go to judged on fan base,” Marr said. “And our fan base has been unbelievable. It’s grown each year and for us to be in the top 5 in NCAA Division I lacrosse the last 2 or 3 years, that’s what drew the PLL to come here, but it shows again the growth that we’ve had in the Capital Region. I think now we’re into 30 or 35 high schools playing the game. Almost every team has a club or youth program, so it’s amazing to see the level that lacrosse has reached in the area.”
“Looking at the demographic data, the history of Albany and then Albany as a city – that needed to be a place where we wanted to invest,” said Mike Rabil, the CEO and co-founder of the Premier Lacrosse League. “So right out of the gate as we were identifying large cities and other cities, Albany was at the top of our list. We worked pretty hard to make sure we could find a weekend that would fit with University at Albany. And then University at Albany, led by Scott Marr, has had a lot of success recently and has built an even larger profile for the sport in Albany that had previously existed. Then we have a lot of Albany players, specifically on team Chaos, led by Connor Fields. There are a lot of players in our league who played at University at Albany, who will be coming back to Albany to play and that had never existed before.”
Miles Thompson, Blaze Riorden, Kyle McClancy, Troy Reh and Joe Resetarits join Fields – who is in a three-way tie for the league’s top goal scorer – on team Chaos, which tops the standings at 7-2. Brett Queener and Ty Thompson play for Chrome. Fields, Miles Thompson and Riorden are league all-stars.
“They’re so excited to come back,” Marr said. “The pride that those guys take and that we all take in the university and the experiences that they’ve had here at Albany, playing lacrosse here, going to school here, they’re super excited. They were pumped to hear that the PLL was coming to Albany. I’ve had the chance to chat with them throughout the season, touch base with them all.”
This is the first year of the six-team Premier Lacrosse League. It operates on a tour-based schedule, as the teams are not affiliated with any city, but rather travel from place to place – such as Denver, Boston and New York City – for weekend games.
“So what we wanted to do was create a better environment for professional lacrosse players,” Rabil said. “They had been playing in another league for 19 years that wasn’t servicing them, wages were flat, the fan experience and player experience was below an acceptable level and the growth had flat-lined and even declined.”
Major League Lacrosse was founded in 2001, while the National Lacrosse League – which is played indoors – launched in the late 1980s. In its first year, the PLL landed a deal with NBC to broadcast some games, bringing lacrosse to a bigger audience.
“So NBC has a deep history of identifying sports and rabid fan bases that don’t have the distribution exposure to take them to the next level,” Rabil said. “They did it with Premier League, NASCAR, they helped reinvigorate the NHL. They’re very opportunistic and almost view properties as investors because they are investors and they look to make a return like any broadcast network. So they saw the growth of the sport and then they also saw the opportunity ahead and the innovation we wanted to bring to the broadcast and they wanted to be part of that. We talked about, in our pitch to all the networks digital and linear – under the helmet interviewing during the game, speeding up the game, sideline interviewing when a player comes off the field.”
Marr says he’s looking forward to the competition on August 24 and 25 at Casey Stadium.
“These guys are professional athletes,” Marr said. “They’re training, working out every day, it’s not quite to the level of a football or basketball where they are around each other every day but they certainly train to that level. So to see these guys come out and the size of some of them, people will be amazed at how athletic these guys are.”
After the Albany stop, the PLL’s first ever playoff round starts in Columbus, Ohio on September 6. Rabil is looking forward to the postseason – and beyond.
“There will be more news in the offseason about some other major shifts we are going to be making and one of the things we think about for season two is what is receptivity in these markets,” Rabil said. “If we go to Albany and the fans are incredibly passionate, cheering and show up there is a very high likelihood that we’ll go back to Albany. But there are also a lot of markets we weren’t able to get to because we couldn’t find the right venue or space wasn’t open so we expect to make a push into markets like the Pacific Northwest, Seattle, Portland, places like that where we haven’t be able to go to.”
Click here for PLL game times in Albany.