Army Lacrosse season starts this weekend! The Women start their season tonight at 5:00 pm with a high-leverage opening contest against 17th-ranked USC Trojans at Michie Stadium. The Men then faceoff against a perennially talented team from UMass in Atlanta, GA, tomorrow afternoon starting at 12:30 pm. All of that will be on ESPN+.
Men’s Lacrosse Season Overview
Although every team is different, it’s probably fair to think of Army Lacrosse as having three main goals year-in and year-out.
— Beat Navy!
— Win the Patriot League
— Qualify for the NCAA Championship Tournament
These goals are more interrelated than one might think. The Patriot League Champion gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, but despite the League’s increasing competitiveness and the perennial ranking of multiple members nationally, the League itself usually only sends its champ to play for the nartional title.
Head Coach Joe Alberici therefore designs his team’s schedule to give them at least a chance to make the Tournament with an at-large bid in the event that Army does not win the Patriot League. Alas, history shows this to be a longshot. Still, Army has games at #15 Rutgers, at #9 Syracuse, and at #17 UNC, and if the Black Knights win all three and play well down the stretch, an at-large bid at least becomes a realistic possibility.
We should note, though, that any hope for an at-large bid to the Tournament absolutely depends on beating Navy. The committee has shown that it will not take a service academy team that doesn’t win its Star Game at-large regardless of all other factors. They proved this in 2017.
So while all the games matter, reality is that some games matter more. Army really needs to do well against its out-of-conference opponents, and it desperately needs to beat Navy because of the outsized importance the committee places on the rivalry. Beyond that, the Black Knights need to qualify for the Patriot League Tournament, play well enough in-conference to get a bye in the first round of that tournament, and win home field advantage for that tournament, if possible — in that order.
LET'S GOOOOOOO‼️— Army Men's Lacrosse (@ArmyWP_MLax) December 13, 2023
The 2024 schedule is here!👀 pic.twitter.com/ESxfwgefgw
Men’s Team Overview1
This should be a good team. Army graduated just 6 seniors last year and then put a whopping 5 players on the preseason All-American list: firstie Attackman Reese Burek (Honorable Mention), firstie Midfielder Jacob Morin (3rd Team), yearling Midfielder Evan Plunkett (Honorable Mention), yearling Defender AJ Pilate (2nd Team) and FOGO Will Coletti (3rd Team). Goalie (Fort) Knox Dent graduated, leaving some massive shoes to fill, but Goalie Matt Chess looked great in several high-leverage appearances last year.
While not typically known for their offense, Army was surprisingly efficient last year. They return over 90% of their offensive productivity including their top *10* scorers. A Reese Burek, M Evan Plunkett, and M Jacon Morin collectively make up perhaps the most talented offensive trio Army has seen in recent memory. Add in firstie Attackman Paul Johnson (28 goals in 2023) and yearling Attackman Gunnar Fellows (3 goals, 1 assist), and this is a team that can get quality offensive production from a lot of guys.
This created real problems for Army’s opponents in 2023. The Black Knights performed very well on offense, but they didn’t have any one, single star. If opponents focused on any one contributor — or even a group of contributors — the other guys stepped up, scoring early and often.
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 Lacrosse is known for its tough, physical defense. This year promises all of that and then some. Defender AJ Pilate returns to lead the Black Knight defense in 2024, alongside Goalie Matt Chess, who’s finally getting his chance after sitting behind two-year starter Wyatt Schupler and then Dent. Standout LSM Christian Fornier also returns. Collectively, these guys will look to repeat as the best defense in the Patriot League.
Army would be a Patriot League favorite even without considering the contributions of FOGO Will Coletti. However, Coletti — “the Human Cheatcode” — turns them into a legit national competitor. The ability to win faceoffs has not been a Black Knight strength in recent years. This year, though, the Black Knights boast one of the nation’s best.
Women’s Lacrosse Season Overview
Army’s Women have the same goals as the Men, but despite being ranked 15th nationally, they have fewer big-name stars and a tougher overall road forward. First, because many, many more colleges offer Division I Women’s Lacrosse — there are 126 D1 Women’s teams versus 76 D1 Men’s teams, owing to the effects of Title IX — and second, because the team itself is much newer overall, though they boast a Hell of a lot of talent.
This is the first year in which the Women’s scheduling philosophy mirrors the Men’s, presumably for the same reasons. They open with tough contests against #17 USC and #5 Syracuse. Later in the season, they’ll face off against Rutgers, Cal, and Stanford in addition to their conference opponents.
The experts picked Army to finished second in the Patriot League after #8 Loyola and just ahead of #25 Navy. The good news is that Army has arguably the best coach in the Patriot League in Head Coach Michelle Tumolo. They also have the Preseason Patriot League Midfielder of the Year in yearling standout Brigid Duffy as well as firstie preseason All-Patriot Attacker Julia Gorajek. Beyond that, firstie All-Patriot League Attacker Carleigh Armstrong and standout yearling Attacker Allison Reilly return, alongside Goalies Lacey Bartholomay and Lindsey Serafine. We tend to think of Army as being stronger on the attack, but they boasted the Patriot League’s second-ranked defense in 2023.
The Army Women don’t have any real weaknesses, save that they have to win against a really tough schedule in order to get where they want to be. They tend to dominate average and even “good” teams, often in the most absurd fashion, but they’ve struggled to get over the hump against college lacrosse’s truly elite squads. It’s tough, though, when one of those elite squads — Loyola — is in their conference. This year, they’ll give themselves more shots against the sport’s true blue-bloods. If they can get a signature win — or two! — that ought to set themselves up for a run at the NCAA Tournament.
This is a team that has its best years in front of it. Army beat Navy for the first time ever in 2022. They then beat the Squids twice last year before qualifying for their first-ever NCAA Tournament. They’ll push deep into the Tournament soon enough, and then who knows where they might finish.
We’re in for a great season, friends.
Go Army! Beat USC!!! Beat UMass!!!
1James from Brigade Review wrote most of this section.
2 Face Off Get Off. “A FOGO’s role is to win every face-off in the game and get the ball to the offense. If successful the FOGO will sub off the field to stay ready for the next face-off. If the FOGO does not win the ball on the face-off, then they will stay on the field for defense and come off when the ball is cleared to the offense.” via LacrosseMonkey.Com.
Cover image via @ArmyWP_MLax.