FireWolves Rookies Emerging as Most Dynamic Duo in 2023-24
December 13, 2023By: Adam Levi
Two rookie teammates are taking the NLL by storm and are helping their youthful team transform from a pretender to a contender.
The Albany FireWolves’ Tye Kurtz and Alex Simmons have been the best rookie duo through the first two weeks of the NLL season. Quite frankly, they have been one of the best duos in the NLL this season, period. There are a handful of reasons why the FireWolves have started this season with a 2-0 record, and Kurtz and Simmons are right at the top of that list.
It didn’t take the 2022 fourth overall pick (Simmons) and the 2022 17th overall pick (Kurtz) long to make their mark on the league and showcase what they are capable of at the pro level.
In Week 1 against the Las Vegas Desert Dogs, Kurtz tallied five points, including a go-ahead goal early in the fourth quarter and a crafty, precise feed to Travis Longboat, who scored the game-winning goal with less than five minutes left in the game. Kurtz would go on to win NLL Rookie of the Week honors for his efforts in the team’s resilient, come-from-behind win. Simmons also played a pivotal role in that Week 1 win with his two goals and two assists, including scoring the game-tying goal by fearlessly attacking the net, leaving his feet, and finding a way to put the ball in the back of the net despite two Desert Dogs defenders and Landon Kells in his way.
In Week 2, this budding dynamic duo put on another mesmerizing show, but this time, against the defending champion Buffalo Bandits. Kurtz posted another two goals and three assists. He contributed early and often, playing an essential role in the team’s first half offensive outburst. Kurtz’s partner in crime, Simmons, had one of the best games of this NLL season to date. He notched five goals and added three assists for eight points – those eight points is tied for the third-most points in a game this season. He was electric from start to finish.
What’s been impressive about these 24-year-olds’ efforts is not just how they are individually helping the team in any way they can but how they’re working with each other on and off the floor to produce optimal results. There have been two occasions where Kurtz and Simmons worked together to get Ethan Walker a couple of goals, and Kurtz has fed Simmons for one of his seven goals of the young season.
But beyond those moments, Kurtz and Simmons are exhibiting that they can do more than just score goals. They’re out there setting solid picks for their teammates, hustling for loose balls and providing sparks of energy up and down the floor. Their partnership seems to be an offensive match made in heaven for a market desperate for success. Kurtz couldn’t be happier with the way things are starting out for him and Simmons.
“[Simmons is] a great player,” Kurtz said. “We work well together and kind of just play off each other – we have a similar mindset. At the end of the day, what’s important to us is that the ball ends up in the back of the net no matter how it’s going to happen. We’re both willing to do whatever it takes, whether we’re the ones scoring or we’re making the play, or making the pass or setting the pick – it really doesn’t matter to us. He’s a great teammate.”
Simmons explained that the chemistry between him and Kurtz didn’t just form out of thin air or over the last month since they came to training camp. He and Kurtz actually played together 10 years ago on Team OntarioBantam.
They also knew of each other and played against each other in the Ontario Junior Lacrosse League (Jr. A). Following those experiences in adolescence, the two remained friendly and tracked each other’s games throughout university – Kurtz played at the University of Delaware, and Simmons was at the University of Denver and then Syracuse University.
“Tye and I have played together previously for a couple of Team Ontario teams for Canadian national championships. We’ve had a little bit of chemistry growing up. We know each other; we know each other’s skill sets, so it’s pretty easy – it was an easy fit,” said Simmons.
“We developed chemistry [back in 2013] because the team only had four righties. We have a similar play set and similar skill set. We’re excellent shooters, but we can work off another guy. I think our pick-and-roll, our two-man game, is pretty outstanding.”
The way the pair have played through the first two games is nothing short of outstanding. But, should we be surprised that these two are off to such a hot start in the NLL? It’s not often that two highly-touted offensive prospects get drafted to the same team in the same draft and in the first round.
Simmons, knowing what Kurtz could bring to the table, was shocked that Kurtz fell to the 17th pick in 2022. Clearly, Kurtz is proving that the other teams in the league made a big mistake passing on him.
“Honest to god, I think Tye Kurtz was the biggest steal in the NLL Draft,” Simmons said. “I don’t know how he went at 17, but it’s just ridiculous.”
Albany’s head coach, Glenn Clark, is overjoyed to see the pair becoming breakout stars in the NLL, and he is excited that their contributions to the team are having a notable impact on the team’s overall success.
“They’ve been as advertised,” Clark said. “I’ve been kind of selling it to this fan base and media saying, ‘You know, we were going through pain last year, but we have potential star players coming in.’ I think you’ve seen that out of both of them… They play well, they play in tough areas, and they’re just guys that know how to get it done.”
The FireWolves have struggled to find much success since moving to Albany in 2021. They went 9-9 in their first year in town after moving from Uncasville, CT, and were known as the New England Black Wolves. The team wasn’t as fortunate in year two and ended up having a painfully frustrating and demoralizing 3-15 season.
With five of their seven first-round picks of the last three NLL drafts all sharing the floor, the FireWolves and the general lacrosse public are seeing that the team’s rebuild is starting to pay dividends.
“Last year was painful, and it was a deflating season,” Clark said. “I’m not saying that we’re going 18-0 [this season], but it’s nice to know that we have the potential to win those types of games and have some pushback – especially offensively.”
The season has just begun, and the FireWolves won’t let themselves get overconfident just because they started 2-0 as a franchise for the first time since moving to Albany.
They are getting excited that the team is starting to find a rhythm and win ball games more consistently. They’ve trusted the process, built a team they thought would be successful, and are finally producing the results to prove that the strategy worked.
Whether Kurtz and Simmons would admit it or not (they wouldn’t), the rookies have been the brightest signs yet that this process is working. They plan to keep making that case well beyond the first two weeks of this season.
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