PHOTO BY BILL ZISKIN

Junior attackman Connor Fields is racking up highlights and points for Albany, which hosts Maryland in a top-10 showdown Wednesday.

Connor Fields Is Albany's Latest Showstopper


J.D. Colarusso, the redshirt junior goalie at the University of Albany, is grateful he only has to take the abuse from Connor Fields on the practice field.

On game days, Colarusso is treated to a decidedly more pleasing view. He gets to watch Fields, the 5-foot-11, 160-pound junior lefty and undisputed leader of the most prolific offense in Division I, do his thing at the expense of opposing defenses.

The eighth-ranked Great Danes (9-1) are abuzz about the pieces that form Fields’ highlight reel.

They rave about the fake behind-the-back pass Fields made with his back to the net against UMass last month, before roll dodging inside and scoring easily against a confused Minutemen defense to punctuate a blowout win.

They shake their heads over one moment that defined his four-goal, four-assist performance in a 19-11 rout at Stony Brook. Fields, positioned left of the Seawolves’ goal, rolled under a pick set by midfielder Jack Burmaster, got a few yards above goal line extended and ripped a sneaky low-angle, low-to-high, 13-yard shot for a score.

Then there’s the 10-goal show Fields put on in his first NCAA tournament in 2015, spanning two games and topping off the 66-goal season that stands as a record for a Division I freshman.

In a quarterfinal loss to Notre Dame, Fields overmatched future All-American goalie Shane Doss by making six of eight shots, ranging from 15-yard bombs to a behind-the-back beauty after snaring a low pass on the crease.

The Great Danes talk of routine occurrences they witness, whether Fields is dominating Albany’s defense in practice or giving it to opponents on game day, whether Fields is creating his own shot and bedeviling goalies with that snappy, underhand release that recalls his days as a high school hockey star, or setting up others for high-percentage chances.

“I’ve seen enough of Connor to say I think he can score at will,” Colarusso said. “He’s got this weird release that makes his shot hard to read. He’s so good at anticipating double teams and making the right pass. Some days in practice I’m like, ‘When is this going to end?’”

“[Fields] just keeps making the right plays. You wonder how he can be so creative with the ball,” sophomore midfielder Sean Eccles added. “What makes him so special is he’s one of those guys who really wants to make every other player around him better. His attitude is, what are we going to do together and what do others need from him? It’s never about him. None of the attention has gone to his head.”

From that fantastic freshman year, when Fields often was the recipient of pinpoint feeds from superstar Lyle Thompson in his final collegiate season, to this spring, as Fields has assumed more of the quarterback role he played as a two-time high school All-American at Bishop-Timon St. Jude in Buffalo, the attention continues to follow No. 5.

Through Albany’s first 10 games, which include a nine-game winning streak following a season-opening 10-9 loss at Syracuse, Fields has done it all by leading the NCAA in points per game (7.10). The two-time USILA All-American’s 38 goals are tied for the lead nationally. His 33 assists rank third. Fields is shooting 44.2 percent.

“You’ve got to respect [Fields] wherever he is on the field,” says Albany assistant Merrick Thomson, a 2007 Albany graduate and one of the school’s top offensive players ever. “He can throw a behind-the-back pass like a dart to a guy cutting down the middle. He can pass and shoot with either hand. He’s got such a great release point that he can hit any corner. He has that ‘whoa’ factor.”

When asked to explain how he comes up with his occasionally freakish plays, Fields credited his background as a box lacrosse player, from his grade school years playing in the Canadian border town of Fort Erie, to his high school days on the Tuscarora Reservation in Niagara, near Fields’ hometown of East Amherst, north of Buffalo.

“The box game teaches you so much about using your hands in traffic around the crease and using pick-and-rolls,” said Fields, who added that those “whoa” plays are largely unscripted. “I just try to read the play, and then it just happens.”


"He has that 'whoa' factor." — Albany assistant Merrick Thomson


What is happening now in Albany is the evolution of its premier player.

As a freshman in 2015, Fields came into a unique scenario. He would be the understudy to then-senior Lyle Thompson, who was cementing his legacy as arguably the greatest attackman in Division I history. Thompson, who finished with all-time NCAA records in points (400) and assists (225), turned Albany’s future field general into its top finisher as a crease attackman.

Thompson took Fields under his wing on and off the field. The two-time Tewaaraton Award winner would sometimes take Fields and other freshmen bowling. He’d also hang out at Fields’ apartment playing NHL video games or watching/talking lacrosse for hours.

“Lyle is a true leader, always bringing the mood up,” said Fields, who combined with Seth Oakes to form a monster attack unit in 2015.

“Lyle taught me composure, how not to hang my head after I missed a shot or had a rough game. He showed me how to be patient with the ball. He showed me confidence and humility. Playing off of Lyle was a lot of fun. He always dodged with his head up, and he trusted you enough to get you the ball if you had a step on your man.”

“I wasn’t sure what type of player Connor would turn out to be, because he played such a strict [finishing] role that year,” Thompson recalled. “I wanted to give our young guys confidence more than anything.”

“With that quick release, [Fields] can go low-to-high or low-to-low, and the goalie doesn’t know what’s coming,” he added. “Now, with the system Albany is running, they are letting him create and do his thing [as a feeder or finisher].”

The numbers say that the Albany’s up-tempo system, which is predicated on jumping at every transition opportunity and wearing out settled defenses with constant motion and picking, is working as well as ever.

Back on March 21, when Fields finished with four goals and three assists in a nonconference rout over Canisius, he reached the career 200-point plateau in his 41st game — tying him with Thompson as fastest in school history to hit that milestone.

Going into Wednesday’s game against Maryland, Fields ranks sixth in school history in career points (232), sixth in goals (148) and eighth in assists (84).

“He scores against everybody we play,” Albany head coach Scott Marr said. “He was our best off-ball guy with Lyle. This year, he’s the guy we trust with the ball in his stick.”

“Connor is not afraid to go into dirty areas of the field and embrace contact,” Marr added. “His change of direction and sense of feeling the double team is very much like Lyle’s. And he can shoot that sneaky low shot close to 100 mph, six inches under the crossbar or six inches off the ground. That’s not easy to do, and it’s a tough thing to stop.”








Looking back, it’s amazing how quickly Fields and Albany found each other.

Thomson, who ranks third in school history with 244 career points, recalled seeing Fields play for Bishop-Timon St. Jude when Thomson was coaching at the Hill Academy (Ontario).

When Marr got a closer look at Fields in 2012 as a member of Western New York’s Champions Lacrosse — on a team coached by former Albany star Frank Resitarits, a co-captain of that 2007 Albany squad with Thomson — Fields quickly became a high-priority recruit.

Besides his lacrosse pedigree — Fields was on the verge of setting a New York state record with 129 goals as a junior attackman — his hockey background made Fields more intriguing to Marr. Fields led the Tigers to back-to-back state titles in 2012 and 2013 as player of the year.

After taking an official visit to Albany following his sophomore year, and before any other school could seriously pursue him, Fields realized he’d found a college home. He committed to Albany during the summer preceding his junior year at Bishop-Timon.

“I knew right away that it was a good fit, and I only could wait a couple of days after my visit before I committed,” Fields said. “Besides the chance to play with Lyle, I had grown up watching Albany play Syracuse in the Dome in their season opener, and I loved how they played. And Coach Marr is a super-supportive guy who holds you accountable. He doesn’t sugarcoat things. He’s very upfront.”

Since Albany is situated two hours south of Buffalo, it also allows Connor’s parents to watch him play regularly. His mother, Jennifer, is a nurse at a children’s hospital. His father, Peter, sells medical devices in a territory that includes Albany.




PHOTO BY RICH BARNES

As a freshman, Fields (5) benefited from the tutelage of two-time Tewaaraton winner Lyle Thompson (4). The two teamed up with Seth Oakes (21) to form a monster attack in 2015.


As Albany angles for another America East Conference title and another shot a first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament final four, Fields said he feels “a little” pressure to lead the Danes into uncharted territory. Albany has made eight trips to the NCAAs in Marr’s 17 seasons, including three to the quarterfinals.

“You obviously want to win [an NCAA title], but every year you play for your seniors,” said Fields, who is pursuing a career in finance and posted a 3.55 GPA last year while scoring 73 points. “We’re a deep team, with a good defense and really good two-way midfielders and [freshman faceoff star] T.D. [Ierlan] giving us a lot of possessions.

“Day in and day out, we focus on one goal at a time and we respect our opponent,” Fields added. “We’re getting closer and closer. We believe if we play well, we can get the win, no matter what team we’re playing.”