The 2014 season is complete -- *single tear* -- and that means that it's time for College Crosse to highlight the best of Division I lacrosse this year. These awards and certificates of amazing human achievement will appear in four parts. The honors, however, are not redeemable for any form currency, mostly because macroeconomics is a lie.
Best New Program
It's hard to come out of the gate with an engine designed by Mess Sh*t Up!, but that's kind of what the Spiders did in 2014, the program's first tour through Division I lacrosse. Finishing with a 6-11 record and a trip to The Big Barbeque as the Atlantic Sun's surprise representative, Richmond did more than simply take shots to the mouth and re-pivot toward throwing hands at the less fortunate. Rather, the Spiders' performances over the course of the season matched the team's ultimate result: Expected to win 35.66 percent of their games according to the team's adjusted Pythagorean win expectation (that's the highest mark among first-year programs in 2014), the Spiders hit their mark, winning a half-dozen games and finding volition as the season reached its apex.
The most interesting aspect of Richmond's season, though, was that after the Spiders earned their first win -- a 12-11 defeat of Vermont in a toss-up game -- Richmond seemed to find their purpose: Of the team's five remaining wins, three were against opponents in which the Spiders were favorites, one was a victory in a toss-up situation, and the last was a notable upset of High Point in the Atlantic Sun Tournament championship. With respect to the teams final six losses, only one -- against VMI -- was a result that implied underperformance relative to expectations. New programs can go through swings of under- and over-performing but the Spiders managed to find consistency in their results.
Player of the Year
Lyle Thompson, Albany Great Danes
Jordan Wolf has the ring, Joe Fletcher is going to play for Team USA, and Albany crashed out of the NCAA Tournament in the quarterfinals. None of that directly impacts the blurred reality that Lyle Thompson created this year for the Great Danes. The 128 points that Lyle generated this season -- a new single-season NCAA record -- outpaced the total points that three teams -- Monmouth (116), Lafayette (117), and VMI (124) -- generated this year. (On a points per game basis, Lyle almost matched the output of Monmouth, Mount St. Mary's, and VMI (all averaged fewer than nine points per game).)
Lyle was an offense unto himself. The greatest aspect of Lyle's play, though, was that he was the indispensible combustion to the Thompson Trio: 65.79 percent of Albany's total points came from a Thompson, with Lyle accounting for 28.07 percent of that output, Miles responsible for 26.10 percent of the point-generation, and Ty holding 11.62 percent of the team's total points; Miles, however, had 30.25 percent of his total points attributed in some way -- an assist in or out -- to Lyle while Ty had 28.30 percent of his total points attributed to Lyle in the same way. So, it's not just that Lyle was almost a third of the Danes' offense -- he was about a third of Miles' and Ty's offense as well. That's a hell of a season.
Best Game -- Regular Season
North Carolina at Syracuse, April 12, 2014
The Orange's 11-10 double-overtime win against the Tar Heels seems to have receded into the abyss after things accelerated during the tournament season. There were few games during the 2014 regular season, though, that were as well-played and dramatic as what Syracuse and North Carolina did on the Carrier Dome's carpet before a national audience. The game-winner came with 2:57 remaining in the second overtime, a 10-yard blast from Billy Ward that beat Kieran Burke.
North Carolina dominated play over the first 30 minutes, building a 6-3 lead at the break. The Orange looked overmatched in the game's first two frames, but came out of the intermission firing, scoring five of the third quarter's six goals, pulling square with the Heels at seven with 11 seconds remaining before the final period. It was the first tie of the game and the first instance in which it looked like Syracuse could salvage its eroding ACC Tournament hopes. The final quarter of regulation was a show: Jimmy Bitter scored the third of his four goals on the day just over three minutes into the last stanza; Syracuse responded with consecutive goals in a 3:02 span to take their first lead of the game -- 9-8 -- thanks to buckets from Dylan Donahue and Nicky Galasso (both on assists from Kevin Rice); Carolina seemed to seize control of the game over the next four-and-a-half minutes, taking a 10-9 lead on goals from Chad Tutton and Bitter, holding momentum with 3:10 remaining in regulation; and then the Orange -- riding Kevin Rice as they had all season -- got the game-tying goal with eight ticks left on the clock when Rice drove the crease and found net -- low and away -- after a perfect question mark dodge. Syracuse had a chance to win with a tenth of a second left in regulation, but Donahue was not able to redirect a cross-field pass into the net with time fading away.
The first overtime was a goalie showcase with Burke making three stops -- many of them mind-bending -- and Bobby Wardwell coming up with a gigantic stuff of Steve Pontrello. Ward, then, played hero just over a minute into the game's second -- and final -- extra period.