Army Lacrosse Preview: First Look at the 2021 Season
Army Men’s Lacrosse starts the 2021 season with a few superstars backed by a young, largely unproven team. Nevertheless, this team has high expectations. Led by cow captain Attacker Brendan Nichtern and cow Goalie Wyatt Schupler, the Black Knights begin the 2021 campaign ranked #15 in the nation. They’re coming off a truncated but highly successful 2020 season in which the team notched two Top-20 wins and a 2019 season that saw them finally get over the hump against perennial Patriot League powerhouse Loyola to capture the Patriot League Championship.
— Kyle Georgalas (@LaxCoachKG) January 30, 2021
What to Watch
The Black Knights won the Patriot League in 2019 off outstanding defensive play and a breakout performance from then-plebe Nichtern. They then opened the 2020 campaign with wins over #18/#19 UMass and #19/#20 Rutgers before dropping a low-scoring heartbreaker to perennial powerhouse Syracuse in the dome. The Black Knights bounced back, though, notching wins against Binghamton and Patriot League foes Holy Cross and Lafayette. When the season ended, Army stood 6-2. Matches against ranked Patriot League foes #18/#19 Lehigh, #13/#14 Loyola, #20 Bucknell were to have been their next contests. Those contests would have set the stage for almost-certain entry into the Patriot League tournament.
Though Army’s best player plays on the Attack, the team’s culture is decidedly defense-first. In fact, this team has finished with a Top 10 defense in each of the last eight seasons. They’ve had to because they’ve struggled to consistently win faceoffs over the last two years, forcing the team to make up the difference by causing turnovers either in the scrum immediately after the faceoff or during set-piece possessions by the opposing team. In either case, Army’s long poles have been outstanding, setting the offense up for success off of fast breaks.
On offense, Army tends to pass around the perimeter, using Nichtern like a basketball point guard. If defenses don’t give the Black Knights’ star attacker enough attention, he’s more than capable of scoring it himself. However, this team is at its best when Nichtern facilitates the rest of the offense, drawing the defense out of position, so that Army’s other attackers can either make a run themselves or shoot from range. Prior to Nichtern’s arrival, Army tended to find more success taking hard shots outside. With him in the game, however, the Army attack has found a lot more balance, mixing more high percentage shots with the outside bullets that have seemingly always been there for them.
— Patriot League (@PatriotLeague) January 28, 2021
Know Your Team
We’d probably have a better sense of who we’re likely to see starting this season had the Black Knights actually finished their schedule in 2020. As it is, we’re going to have to make some educated guesses.
We know we’re going to see Nichtern on the attack, but it’s a little hard to predict who will be out there with him. Cow Aiden Byrnes played in five games in 2020 and notched two goals against NJIT, so he’ll probably see quality time in 2021. Beyond that, the Black Knights have a few firsties and a lot of young talent. The coaching staff surely knows who they’re excited about, but until these guys actually hit the field, we fans are just gonna have to wait and see.
At midfield, Army brings back firstie captain Nicholas Garofano along with cows Gunner Phillip and Bobby Abshire. All three of those guys are good shooters, and given the dearth of experience on the attack, they may have to account for more of the team’s offense than one might typically want or expect. U.S. Lax Magazine also highlighted the arrivals of plebes Trevor Kelley and Bailey O’Connor. Maybe we’ll hear their names some this spring, but they’ll be competing for time in the team’s deepest position group, so we probably won’t see them a lot, especially in high leverage situations.
On defense, cow Marcus Hudgins returns alongside firstie captain Matthew Russell and Schupler at goal. Hudgins led the team in turnovers last year while Schupler finished as a Top-5 goalie nationally in two separate categories. Russell played in five games last year and now appears set to start alongside Hudgins. Beyond that, we’ll have to wait and see. The Black Knights always seem to field a talented, aggressive defense, and I’m quite sure that this defense will be a team strength in 2021 as well. Army always seems to make it work on the back end.
USILA Preseason All American ✅
Inside Lacrosse Preseason All American ✅
— Army M.Lacrosse (@ArmyWP_MLax) February 2, 2021
It’s worth noting, too, that firstie goalie Greg Coleman has also been named a team captain. This coming off a season in which he posted an outstanding 50% save percentage. With that, Coleman may well see more time than one might expect given the level of Schupler’s play in 2020.
The Patriot League is playing in two divisions this season — North and South. Army caught a potential break in the North Division with Boston University, Colgate, and Holy Cross. All of those teams are good occasionally, but the League’s perennial power Loyola and their best up-and-coming team Lehigh are both in the South division alongside Navy. That’s good in the sense that it ought to help the Black Knights make the League Tournament, but it won’t help them make the NCAA Tournament later in the year based on their overall strength-of-schedule. For that, the Black Knights will have to schedule — and beat — some legitimate, nationally-ranked opponents.
As of this writing, Army’s schedule remains a mystery. They seemingly always play Syracuse, Rutgers, and Marist, and those are all quality opponents, but with the chaos of the pandemic, it’s tough to make any serious predictions. Army Basketball played a truncated Bubbleville schedule followed by a two-times-through half-Patriot League schedule, so we probably ought to expect something similar from Army Lacrosse.
Looks like 15 is our lucky number this preseason 👀
— Army M.Lacrosse (@ArmyWP_MLax) January 26, 2021
It’s a lot harder to know what to expect from the Women’s team this season. This is still a fairly young program, but they started finding some real success in 2019, and that continued in 2020. When the 2020 season finished, this team was actually 7-0.
The Army Women have a real tendency to murder inferior and even just good competition, but they have yet to notch the kind of signature Top-20 win that would put them on the map nationally alongside the Men. They started 2019 with seven straight wins, for example, but then dropped decisive losses to top-ranked teams Villanova, #10 Loyola, and #14 Navy. The ladies followed that up with blowout wins versus almost everyone in 2020, but their season ended before they could take on the nation’s best teams.
The Women’s team is very good, and at some point, they’re going to break through, beat Navy, and enter the elite ranks nationally. I always get the sense watching them, though, that they’d be more comfortable playing by the Men’s rules, that this team’s biggest problem is that they can’t bring the kind of blunt force violence to their game that we see weekly from Army Men’s Lacrosse or Army Football. These women are warriors, and I’ll go to my grave wondering why they’re not wearing helmets and hitting like they ought to be.
— Army W.Lacrosse (@ArmyWP_WLax) January 15, 2021
Anyway, this should be an interesting season. I am very much looking forward to watching Army Lax play at whatever point that’s announced. According to U.S. Lacrosse Magazine, Patriot League non-conference games begin February 20.
Go Army! Beat Navy!!!
Cover image via @ArmyWP_MLax