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September Athletes of the Month: Sacks and Scoring

By Christian Hince | October 5, 2023

This past month saw solid showings for both football and field hockey at the University at Albany, with two athletes in particular impressing in their respective sports:

Anton Juncaj

Now wearing #4, edge rusher Anton Juncaj wore #95 in his first season with the team in 2022.

Photo Credit: UAlbany Athletics

Football has seen a massive turnaround on the defensive side of the ball a year after giving up 34 points-per-game, and a good deal of this is owed to senior defensive end Anton Juncaj.

A preseason all-CAA honorable mention, Juncaj measures up at 6 foot 3 inches and 273 pounds. He leads the Football Championship Subdivision in sacks with nine and ranks second in total tackles-for-loss at 8.5, already beating his respective totals of 4.5 and seven from 2022.

“It feels good that I'm continuing to improve,” Juncaj said. “I feel like I've developed over the past year, and this is going to show.”

While proud, Juncaj credits his numbers to a collective effort by the defense, specifically mentioning his fellow lineman. “I think just everyone's playing together,” he said, “the [defensive] backs are doing their job, and you got [Joseph] Greaney, Elijah Hills and [AJ] Simon [which] makes the job easier.”

While Juncaj left UAlbany’s Sept. 9 game against Hawaii early with a lower leg injury, he was good to play two weeks later when the Great Danes played Morgan State. “I’m just taking it day by day,” he said.

Nobody’s been happier to have Juncaj in every game than head coach Greg Gattuso. “I love him as a person, and as a football player, he's one of the easiest guys I've ever had to coach,” he said. “We’re hoping for more big things for him.”

The senior from Port Jervis, NY played his freshman season in 2019 at Division II Southern Connecticut State, racking up 5.5 sacks and 7.5 TFLs in nine games, before transferring to Nassau County Community college in 2021. He played three games before a torn bicep ended his time with the program.

Five games into his second season as a Great Dane, Juncaj has done more than make his mark. On Saturday against #16 Villanova, Juncaj sacked Wildcat quarterback Connor Watkins twice in the resounding 31-10 victory. He forced a fumble on the second one which was recovered by UAlbany’s edge rusher from the other side, AJ Simon.

UAlbany exits September 3-2, with both losses coming in competitive games against Football Subdivision opponents. “We’ve played with the best of them,” Juncaj said. “Now we just got to keep building and doing our jobs, and we can compete with anybody.”

In his second year at UAlbany, Anton Juncaj is a wrecking ball on the defensive line.

Alison Smisdom

Alison Smisdom dribbles in a Sept. 3 game against Iowa.

Photo Credit: UAlbany Athletics

Field hockey appears well on its way to an America East title defense, and junior Alison Smisdom’s offensive firepower has been key.

Smisdom leads the team with 12 goals scored, distantly followed in second by Charlotte Triggs’ four. She also has four assists, good for third on the team. She called game in UAlbany’s Sept. 23 conference opener against Cal, with a goal less than two minutes into overtime for a 2-1 victory.

Similarly to Juncaj, Smisdom is quick to credit her impressive numbers to her supporting cast. “Obviously it's really nice, but I think it reflects well on how the team is doing,” she said.

Already creeping up on goal totals of 15 and 16 from 2022 and 2021 respectively, Smisdom is no stranger to accolades in her career. After winning America East Rookie of the Year two seasons ago, she was awarded first team All-America in 2022 from the Nation Field Hockey College Association in a year that saw the Great Danes advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Native to Antwerp, Belgium, Smisdom played for the local Royal Victory Hockey Club since she was four-years-old before leaving for Albany.

Her team is rolling again, sitting at 7-3 overall and 3-0 in the America East, ranking 19th in ESPN’s national top 20. “Anything can happen,” said Smisdom. “We're going to take it one game at a time, focus on playing our game, and stick to our identity.”


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