If you’re an Army Sport fan, you probably already know that Army’s Men’s Lacrosse won the Patriot League this year, then advanced to the NCAA Tournament where they beat #4 Maryland to advance to the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time in 13 years. This from a team that graduated a TON of senior leadership last year, including an All-American; a team that has relied on outsized contributions from a bunch of plebes and otherwise previously unknown underclassmen all season; a team that Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach Joe Alberici has called his least experienced team, maybe ever.
Yes, friends, THIS is the Army Team that is even now shocking the lacrosse establishment. THIS is the Army Team that has a legitimate shot to make Army’s deepest run in the Tournament in a long, long time.
So yes. NOW is the time to get into Army Lacrosse.
Don’t Fall for the Soccer Fallacy
Army’s success aside, this has been a particularly interesting year in college lacrosse. Many of the sport’s blue bloods disappointed over the course of the season while several lesser known programs flourished. Michigan, for example, not only made their first NCAA Tournament appearance this year, they actually beat #8 Cornell — in overtime! — to advance to the semifinals for the first time as well. In fact, five of the tournament’s first eight games were decided by two points or fewer. Add in the Wolverines’ win coming in OT, and yeah, this was a Hell of a good weekend to be a fan of college lax.
But how many people are actually watching this sport?
When we talk to lacrosse guys about this, we tend to hear a lot about how the sport is growing regionally in schools. And that’s great. But friends, if youth participation was the truly key to generating fan interest, then soccer would have taken the country over as far back as the 1970s.
It’s no secret that I personally watch different sports than I play — that I actually watch completely different kinds of sports than I play — and for years I thought this made me weird. But actually, there are plenty of folks who don’t play sports — at all! — who love watching sports. Moreover, watching sports is a completely different thing from playing.
So maybe it’s not so weird. Who knows?
Think back to when you were in middle school. Remember that kid who really wanted to be a sportswriter? I love that kid, but we both know that he wasn’t remotely the best athlete in that school. That’s fine.
He probably was, however, the biggest sports fan.
Lax is a Game Americans Ought to Love
Whether or not you grew up playing lacrosse, it’s exactly the kind of game that most Americans love. First, because it’s uniquely American, having originated with Native American tribes all the way back in the 17th century. They’re not playing lacrosse in Europe, my friends. They play it here and in Canada, and to some extent in Australia if Wikipedia is to be believed.
This is an American game.
It’s also a full-contact sport. They run hard, hit hard, and wear helmets, so that they can generally beat the crap out of each other. Granted, there are some rather specific rules about how and when you hit the other man, but bottom line, this is a game with about as much intrinsic power and violence as hockey. That is a lot!
Finally, the rules are agreeably complicated, setting up a plethora of interesting tactical possibilities. This creates a slight barrier to entry, alas, but if you can remember that, bottom line, these guys are trying to use a stick with a net to throw a ball into a goal, you at least know enough to get started. God willing, TV commentary will help you from there.
What to Watch
Tactically, lax is broadly similar to basketball, save that it’s played on a massive field with sticks, and there’s a faceoff — think: basketball tipoff — to restart play after every goal. There are picks-and-rolls, gives-and-go’s, etc. Teams can use stationary picks, but they can’t, like, put in a fullback and just blast dudes out of the way. Attackers therefore want to pass or dodge between defenders to get their hands free for a shot, and because they take those shots by whipping their sticks as hard as they can, the best guys fire actual rockets. Moreover, because teams can score and then take the ball again off the restarts, maintaining possessions and/or creating turnovers is about as important in lacrosse as it is in football.
Army specifically has an outstanding Faceoff Specialist (FOGO) in yearling Will Coletti. Coletti has been one of the team’s best advantages this year when matching up against truly elite competition. Goalie Knox Dent has also been outstanding. He was particularly good in the team’s win over Maryland this past weekend. Dent is aided by 3rd Team All-American yearling defender A.J. Pilate. Pilate’s been something like a shutdown cover corner this year for the Army defense. Whoever he’s on is all but guaranteed to do mostly nothing over the course of that contest.
On offense, the Black Knights take a real team-first approach. This is NOT the norm. Like in basketball, most teams — especially elite teams — feature a limited number of high-leverage scoring threats. By comparison, the Black Knights had *11* different players score against Maryland. Plebe Gunnar Fellows had a hat trick, and he’s been terrific this year, but he’s not remotely the team’s only offensive threat. Indeed, cow Jacob Morin probably has the team’s hardest shot, while plebe midfielder Evan Plunkett has scored in every game this year. But Army’s biggest offensive strength is that they have so many different guys who can finish on offense.
Friends, it is very difficult to shut down a team’s entire offense.
Now is the Time
Don’t miss this one, friends. The big game is this weekend. This is your last, best chance to get invested in the Army Team’s success this year.
Oh by the way, they’re playing this game at Navy!
If you’re in DC, you can absolutely go see this thing.
Army takes on Penn State on Sunday, starting at noon. ESPNU will have coverage.
Go Army! Beat Penn State!!!
Cover image via @PatriotLeague on Twitter.