Army Lacrosse is good, friends.
Maybe you’re just now noticing? Maybe you noticed last year, when both the Men’s and Women’s teams made memorable, nationally recognized runs?
It’s all good. We’re gonna try to get you ready for the season this week by starting the conversation, and we’ll be back soon enough with a full-on season preview.
Welcome to the 2024 edition of #AsForLax.
Army Ruled 2023!
On the Men’s side, last year’s unheralded team of mostly underclassmen outperformed even the most outlandish expectations, finishing 13-4 (7-1 in the Patriot League), winning the Patriot League Championship, and making it all the way to the NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals. The Black Knights finished the season by beating defending national champs Maryland in the Tournament’s first round and then came within a fraction of a second of going to overtime against heavily favored Penn State in a hotly contested quarterfinal contest. This from a team that bounced back off an opening week loss to win nine straight and earn multiple Top 10 victories in 2023.
Was last year Head Coach Joe Alberici’s best coaching performance ever?
Maybe, and that’s really saying something.
Player to Watch 👀 ⏩️ @eplunkett2021— 285lacrosse (@285lacrosse) January 30, 2024
The GA native made a big impact in his freshman year, earning 2023 @PatriotLeague ROY. Plunkett's impressive performance consisted of 46 points (21 G, 25 A). He ranked fifth in goals, second in assists, & second in points among the team. pic.twitter.com/LpZFXpkjqM
Army has a much younger program on the Women’s side, but they’re rapidly building something special behind Head Coach Michelle Tumolo. Last year’s team finished 15-4 (8-1 in the Patriot League), made it to the Patriot League Championship, and qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. This is a team that beat Navy for the first time ever in 2022 and now sits 3-1 against the squids since earning that first seminal victory.
Both teams come into the 2024 season with high expectations.
All three Men’s polls have the Black Knights ranked 8th nationally. Army has a whopping *5* preseason All-American picks!
On the Women’s side, Army comes into the season ranked 15th in both polls. Breakout yearling star Brigid Duffy was named a First Team Preseason All-American and the preseason Patriot League Midfielder of the Year.
But I Don’t Know Anything About Lacrosse…
Friends, lacrosse is fun but quite particular kind of game. It’s uniquely American, less complicated than baseball, and waaaay less complicated than football, but despite a long, storied history, it’s only just emerging as a widely-appreciated spectator sport among casual viewers. Where football guys — and to a lesser extent, baseball and basketball guys — grow up knowing that folks watch their game and therefore learn to talk casually about it to anyone and everyone, most lacrosse guys tend to assume that the folks watching also grew up playing lacrosse. This has changed a bit as lacrosse has grown nationally, but progress is slow, and I don’t know that most lacrosse guys generally understand the nature of Army sports culture, especially in the sense that “every cadet is an athlete.”
I mean, we all play something. Obviously, we don’t all play the same thing. That doesn’t mean we’re not mostly all sports nuts.
Happily, though, lacrosse is conceptually straightforward. You catch the ball in your stick and throw it in the goal. That’s easy enough.
Beyond that, though, there is a lot going on.
Tactically, the game exists in a space that is similar to both soccer and basketball. Lacrosse teams boast defenders, midfielders, and attackers like soccer has fullbacks, halfbacks, and forwards. It gets a little more complicated, though, in that lacrosse has both defensive midfielders and attacking midfielders, and the true back-line defenders get longer sticks, creating a whole calculus of how teams match their long-sticks up against short-stick attackers. Moverover, there are lines in lacrosse similarly to the way that there are lines in hockey, so in-game substitutions also create a tactical calculus as teams try to transition from defense to offense and back again. As in basketball, turnovers can create fast breaks. However, who has the ball can matter a lot in lacrosse, again creating some tactical tension between maximizing fast break opportunities versus playing settled offense.
Offense in lacrosse can look quite a bit like offense in basketball in the sense that attacking teams will try to work the ball around to a guy with an open lane to the goal. Stationary picks are legal, but moving picks are not. Plus, Men’s Lax is a full-contact sport. Body checking a guy with the ball — or checking a defender if you have the ball — is a-okay. That is a big part of what makes the game awesome.
I confess that I do not fully understand the contact rules of women’s lacrosse, but at least nominally, it’s not supposed to be full-contact. This creates a weird space of hesitant, extreme physicality, and at least as far as Army Lacrosse is concerned, I often think that our women would be better off if they could just hit, straight-up. Literally every time I watch them, I think, “This team ought to be able to just fight and win on the battlefield.”
Army’s Men fight and win with extreme physicality all the time. Playing physical defense is probably the single most consistent trait of Coach Alberici’s teams. With that in mind, it often feels like the current rules don’t necessarily let Army’s Women live their best lives. Because they usually look like they just want to beat your ass.
Enjoy the Season!
All of this has been a long way of saying that anyone can enjoy lacrosse. There’s enough that’s familiar to even the most casual sports fans to understand the game at an intrinsic level. You’ve seen the basics in other sports in other ways. Moreover, with football season finished, college lacrosse is pretty much the only thing going that might scratch that “full-contact collision team sport” itch that I know most AFF fans feel.
Sure, lacrosse can get infinitely complex. Football and baseball can also get infinitely complex. Don’t let that stop you, even though the game’s complexity may present some barriers as you get started. Just start with the basics and go from there.
After all, casual football fans won’t see the game the same way that former offensive linemen see it. They can still watch and appreciate football for what it is. The same is true of college lacrosse, and especially Army Lacrosse, which boasts two very good teams headed into 2024.
#15 Army Women’s Lacrosse opens on Friday night at Michie Stadium against #17 USC. The game starts at 5:00 pm on ESPN+. #8 Army Men’s Lacrosse opens with a neutral site game in Atlanta, Georgia, this Saturday at 12:30 pm. ESPN+ coverage for that one starts at noon.
Go Army! Beat USC!!! Beat UMass!!!
Cover image via @ArmyWP_MLax.