This past weekend was tough. Army literally lost in the closing moments against a Top 5 opponent in what had been a consistently back-and-forth contest all day long. Cornell came out hot, but Army kept tying it back up, even in the 4th quarter after the Big Red took what looked to be a decisive three-goal lead at the start of the period. Even then, though, the Black Knights fought back and were literally seconds away from forcing overtime, when anything could have happened, and they just couldn’t — quite — get it done. That sucked a lot.
With the loss and the way that things have shaken out in the rest of the Patriot League this season, Army must almost certainly now win the Patriot League title to make it to the NCAA Tournament.
Right now, though, they just need to win the next one.
Friends, this next game is a big one. It’s finally time to BEAT NAVY!
The recent history of this rivalry has been one that is mimicked in every sport in which Army and Navy faceoff. The records DO NOT MATTER. In the last few years, Army has seen a Navy team with a sub .500 record come in and dominate the field of play. When it comes to this rivalry both teams will be playing as if this was for the championship. Let’s take a look at some of the games within a game that we’ll see this Saturday.
This game will start first and foremost on the defensive end, as many games this season have. Army went into the Cornell game with the number one scoring defense in the nation, thanks in no small part to AJ Pilate and the crew.
Getting Knox Dent back in cage really helped last week. He made save after save whenever it seemed like the Cornell Big Red were going to take control offensively.
Army’s ability to play settled defense against ANY team in the country has been one of the stories of the season. However, if Army’s defense wants to play THEIR game, the Black Knights cannot afford to rely on them as early or nearly as often as they did against Cornell.
Against Cornell, and many other opponents this season, the offense seems to be frantic at times early in the game. It’s not until the second half that the Black Knights get into a rhythm and start executing their plan. This can deplete the defense’s energy and sometimes the team falls behind on the scoreboard, too.
The good news is that Army’s offense has surged several times to take comfortable leads late. However, when these games stay tight, Army defense can find itself playing tired down the stretch. We saw this against Colgate, and then we saw it again against Cornell.
It’s a concerning trend, but one that the team can correct. This week, the team will want to come out hot, firing everything because it’s Army-Navy. For Army, though, a better plan would be to settle the ball, work the clock, and ensure that they’re taking good shots. If they can get this done against Navy, when emotions peak, then they can do against anyone.
Bottom line, the offense needs to help the defense keep fresh legs late into big games. That’s going to be huge from here on out.
Army has a bonafide stud in Will Colletti at the faceoff “X”. However, we need to talk about the clearing/riding game.
Early in the season, the Army Ride gave opposing teams fits when trying to get the ball over the midfield line. The last three or so games, though, they’ve gotten softer. Maybe teams have watched more film and therefore found ways to break the ride, or maybe teams in midseason form make crisper passes. Regardless, Army would do well to find a way to make minor adjustments and get back in the rhythm of confusing teams into cheap turnovers.
On the flip side, Army hasn’t pushed much in their own transition game. They are a settled sixes team, save when they can get the occasional free faceoff win. But as we get closer to playoff/championship lacrosse, being able to steal a goal or two in quick transition can quickly become the difference between a good and a great team.
Granted, this goes directly against what we said earlier about slowing down possessions for the benefit of the defense. Still, the team needs to find a better balance between opportunism and settled six-on-six offense. They do this by taking good shots, either opportunistically in transition or deliberately with the settled offense. Either way, it’s about not rushing but instead finding quality looks.
The Boat School
Navy has Navied very hard this season. They started off the season 3-0 but followed that up with six straight losses, both to better and lesser opponents. More recently, though, they’ve rattled off four straight against Patriot League opponents, including Loyola and Boston University. Those are both good team.
Alas, the Squids are hitting their stride and getting healthy right when it matters most. Despite everything, they could be the hottest team in the Patriot League heading into the tournament. Navy has both the talent and the depth to contend with anyone when healthy. They’re certainly going to be ready for a fight come Saturday night.
All in all, this will be a huge game for both teams and not just because of the rivalry. Army has already secured a spot in the Patriot League tourney — they were the first team to do so — but they need to keep winning to secure home field advantage. Meanwhile, Navy needs to stay hot if they want to stay relevant. This was already supposed to be their year, and friends, it still could be with a win this week and a winning streak heading into the Patriot League Championship.
As of late, Navy has had Army’s number. Still, this is a game that Army can and should win. Then they’ll be just one win away from hosting the PL Tournament.
Go Army! Beat Navy!!!
Cover image via Donna Tamasitis on Smugmug.