Albany's Thompson trio bring their roadshow to Ridley

About 30 minutes after the Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse team had wrapped up a 13-8 victory over visiting Albany on April 4, three players were still standing on the Homewood Field turf, signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans.

That trio did not represent the home team, though. They were Miles, Ty and Lyle Thompson, the starting attackmen for the Great Danes.

"One of my favorite moments of the season was when we had lost that game at Hopkins and you looked on the field and there were only three kids on the field signing autographs, and it was those three," Albany coach Scott Marr said. "They stayed out there for probably a half-hour, 40 minutes taking pictures. I think they've just done such a wonderful job with the kids and taking their time and signing every autograph they can and taking pictures. It's been wonderful."

It's a scene that has unfolded at opposing venues like Alumni Stadium at Hartford and Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium in Stony Brook, N.Y. Fans of the Great Danes and their opponents have sought the Thompsons after games, mobbing them like celebrities. It has become so commonplace for the Thompson trio to interact with fans on both sides of the stands that Miles Thompson hadn't thought much about it until asked by a reporter.

"I guess we've kind of gotten used to it," he said. "We've been spending at least 45 minutes after games hanging with the fans."

The Thompsons and Albany (11-5) will return to Baltimore on Saturday when they face third-seeded Loyola (15-1) in an NCAA tournament first-round game at noon Saturday at Ridley Athletic Complex. While a crowd that rivals the 6,000 who turned out for Saturday's 13-10 victory over Johns Hopkins is not expected, Greyhounds officials anticipate an attendance that surpasses the announced 2,018 who watched Loyola rout Canisius, 17-5, on May 12, 2012 — the last postseason contest at Ridley.

Fans who come out can expect to watch an offensive display from the Thompsons. Junior Lyle Thompson has 114 points; he needs one more to break a tie with former UMBC attackman Steve Marohl for the NCAA single-season record. Brother Miles Thompson, a senior, has a Division I-leading 74 goals and is eight shy of the NCAA single-season mark set by Yale midfielder Jon Reese. And cousin Ty Thompson, a senior, has 36 goals and 12 assists.

But just as mesmerizing is how they score their goals. In that game against Johns Hopkins, both Miles and Ty Thompson scored by flipping the balls over their shoulders with their backs to the cage, and Lyle Thompson curled around the right post and flung a backhand into the net.

Their wizardry with the ball commanded the attention of Greyhounds coach Charley Toomey.

"Certainly as a coaching staff, we're intrigued by them," he said. "It's pretty impressive. You don't have to go very far, because it seems like in every game, there's a highlight reel."

The Thompsons' appeal has been heightened by their presence in the media. They have been profiled by ABC News, The New York Times and several lacrosse publications, and their Native American heritage — they hail from Onondaga Nation in upstate New York — and distinctive single, long ponytails have raised the public's interest.

But the reception they have received on the road this season is a drastic departure from a year ago. Marr said it wasn't uncommon for opponents' fans to lob racial slurs at the Thompsons.

"Last year, the fans weren't quite as receptive," he said. "In fact, we had a lot of unfortunate negative experiences with people yelling racist things and saying things to them that I think were uncalled for. For some reason, this year, it's turned. Now they're drawing a lot of positives. The neat thing is to see so many young kids so excited to get their picture taken with them, to get an autograph after watching them play. It is completely different."

Miles Thompson said the taunts were difficult to ignore but never derailed the trio from their task.

"I don't really know the reason for that," he said of the hostility. "I guess people didn't want to see us win. I would say that because of the media we've gotten this year, most people are interested in that and interested in why we're playing the game."

Lyle Thompson said he usually greets his family after games and joins his teammates on the walk back to the locker room. But that has changed.

"It's just become routine for me to stop by the fence," he said. "That's when fans will usually come over and end up asking for autographs. It just feels good to have that support from fans everywhere and to be a positive influence on kids whenever we can be."

Regardless of what occurs Saturday, this will be the final NCAA tournament that the Thompsons will play together. This is the last year of eligibility for Miles and Ty. It's a sobering thought for Lyle, who has one more year of eligibility. But his only focus is helping Albany move to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2007.

"It's been more of a thought that this is my last year with them," Lyle Thompson acknowledged. "But going into the tournament, that's not really what we're focused on. We're focusing on getting the win and moving on. … It's not in our thoughts that this could be our last game. It's more of just needing to go out and moving on deeper into the tournament."

edward.lee@baltsun.com