ALBANY -- After the University at Albany men's lacrosse program clinched its first-ever trip to the sport's championship weekend, freshman Tehoka Nanticoke wore his customary wide smile as he started to answer a question in Saturday's post-game press conference.
The typically easygoing Nanticoke -- who scored three goals in UAlbany's 15-13 win against Denver in Hempstead -- became emotional, though, as he spoke about his source of motivation for the day's game.
"I play for my grandparents a lot," Nanticoke said. "That's the reason why I was getting emotional after the game. I wish they were here."
Video | @UAlbanyMLax is headed to Championship Weekend thanks in no small part to the play of TD Ierlan and Troy Reh, who helped equalize Denver's faceoff specialist Trevor Baptiste #DaneTrain #NCAAMLAX pic.twitter.com/JMZhw6GK4s— UAlbany Sports (@UAlbanySports) May 21, 2018
That answer stopped there, as Nanticoke wiped tears from his eyes. After Monday's practice, Nanticoke said his grandparents -- who died when Nanticoke was 10 years old -- helped raise him in Six Nations. With fondness, Nanticoke remembered helping his grandfather work in his shed and helping his grandmother cook in the kitchen as a young kid.
"They were always there for me from Day 1," Nanticoke said.
The memory of them, he said, often fuels his play -- and it will, again, 12 p.m. Saturday when No. 2 UAlbany takes on No. 3 Yale in the national semifinals at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
"It's every big game that I feel like I feel that way," Nanticoke said. "I just remember who I am playing for, and I just wish they were here."
He added: "But I always know they're watching me."
'Had to be a record'
In the week leading up to facing off against Denver senior Trevor Baptiste, UAlbany sophomore TD Ierlan said his cell phone rarely stopped buzzing. Text message after text message arrived, as friends and family offered him words of encouragement.
After he went 15 of 30 against Baptiste, matching the Denver star on faceoffs?
That steady stream of messages became more like an avalanche.
"That one had to be a record," Ierlan said. "I got in the locker room after the game, and I was just scrolling and scrolling down for, like, two minutes to see all the texts. There were hundreds."
Once the Great Danes loaded onto their bus, Ierlan said he started to respond to each message.
"And," Ierlan said, "literally, by the time we rolled into Albany, I just finally was done answering all of them."
Of facing Baptiste, who finished his college career with more faceoff wins than any player in NCAA history, Ierlan said it was a challenge unlike any other in his career.
"It was a grind the whole time," Ierlan said. "He's big and strong, but his hand speed is so fast, too, and his reaction is right on the whistle every time."
Fields (still) feels good
UAlbany senior Connor Fields didn't practice Monday, but said he expects to practice Tuesday.
Fields, who sprained his right MCL two months ago, said his knee remained stable throughout Saturday's game and didn't experience significant swelling after it. The senior had no goals, but three assists, in UAlbany's win against Denver.
"My knee felt really good throughout the game and after it, too," Fields said.
Yesterday, on the rain-soaked field at Hofstra, we stood together as a team and earned our first trip to Championship Weekend. (Photos by Bill Ziskin) pic.twitter.com/B1nYokQiKY— UAlbany Lacrosse (@UAlbanyMLax) May 20, 2018
Fields took a lot of contact from Denver defenders during the game and hit the turf several times. Each time, though, he was able to get back up without any traces of a limp.
Fields said he left Saturday's game more confident, too, in the health of his right knee after playing on the stadium's wet turf without more issue than anyone else.
"That helps my confidence a lot," Fields said. "It was wet out there and I was nervous about that, about the field. I slipped a couple times, but that was because of both legs."
This article is written by Michael Kelly from The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.