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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

#AsForLax: We’re Number 1!

What a week, friends. Yale beat previous #1 Denver, and then Syracuse beat previous #2 Johns Hopkins, and now here we are. For the first time ever, your Army Black Knights are the top-ranked team in all of Men’s Lacrosse.

Amazing.

The Problem with Perfection

Alas, it definitely doesn’t get easier from here. The problem with perfection is that every game you play becomes the other teams’ Super Bowl. Moreover, any loss the Black Knights take at this point will look like a calamitous loss. 

Army will play *at* #16 North Carolina (4-2) — a very good opponent — in just over two week’s time. They’ll then play Colgate (5-3) — a team that started the season ranked and may well end it ranked as well — the next week on April 6th. In the meantime, they’ll face perennially good teams in Lehigh (3-3) and then Boston University (4-2) over the next two Saturdays. 

None of those games will be easy. All of those teams play quality lacrosse, and yet, at least on paper, Army should probably murder all of them. The issue, then, isn’t that Army can’t win these games — or even that they can’t win them handily. The issue is that the Black Knights now have literal targets on their backs, they’re absolutely guaranteed to get each opponent’s very best effort week-in and week-out, so that winning every single one of these games will require a level of precision, focus, and especially consistency that is extremely difficult to maintain in college sports.

Consistency kills, friends.

Oh by the way, the Black Knights will face Navy, Bucknell, and Loyola after they finish this early spring gauntlet. None of those teams is having a particularly noteworthy season — right now, at least — but then, no one should expect the Army-Navy Game to be anything other than a dogfight, and Loyola has been a national powerhouse for as long as I’ve been watching college lacrosse. Anything can happen in games like that.

So while the road ahead looks smooth on paper, in reality, not much has changed. It’s nice to see the Black Knight get recognized nationally for their success. However, they will still need to take each game one at a time and play with focus, determination, and their trademark hard nosed will-to-win. 

The hardest time to stay focused is when everyone around you tells you how great you are. That’s also when everyone wants to see you humbled.

Beat Lehigh!

The Lehigh Mountainhawks play a kind of tough, physical, defensive-minded lacrosse with which Army fans ought to be more than passingly familiar. Though they started the season 3-3, the Mountainhawks have a good team that’s matched up well against several tough opponents on the road. They opened the season with a 14-12 loss at then #14 Rutgers, beat Fairfield 8-7, lost at then #5 Cornell, 17-13, beat Dartmouth soundly, lost at Villanova, 14-8, and then beat Navy this past weekend, 12-10.

This Lehigh team has a few legit stars. The Patriot League named senior G Nick Pecora their Goaltender of the Week for his performance in the Mountainhawks’ win over Navy. He’s averaged 13.2 saves/game this season, saving fully 53.7% of the shot-on-goal he’s seen. That’s incredible considering the teams the Mountainhawks have faced. In the Navy game, sophomore A Andew Kelly scored 4 goals, putting him at 12 points on the season with 11 scores and 1 assist. The Patriot League named Kelly to its Honorable Mention team after the game. 

But it wasn’t just Kelly. Lehigh got goals from seven different players against the Squids.

Senior A/M Scott Cole is his team’s real offensive star. Cole has 19 points this season with 18 goals and an assist, giving him 147 total career points. That’s good! Cole also forced 2 turnovers at Navy and picked up *8* ground balls against Dartmouth. He’ll be one to watch both when the Mountainhawks are on offense and in transition when the Black Knights are trying to clear following a caused turnover.

Traditionally, Lehigh’s defense is the strongest aspect of its overall team. Against Navy, the Mountainhawks matched sophomore D Luke McAuliffe on Xavier Arline, the Mids’ leading scorer. McAuliffe held Arline to just 3 total shots and zero points. Overall, the Mountainhawks forced 15 turnovers last week, led by sophomore D Richard Cheo, who had 3.

Expect Army FOGO Will Coletti to come out strong against Lehigh senior FOGO Matt Brock. Brock’s not having a bad season, but he went just 12/25 against Navy and has won just 50% of his faceoffs on the season as a whole. Moreover, Brock has just 7 ground balls this season, meaning that the Black Knights will probably do well when things get muddied off the restart. 

Several teams have tried to bring their wings up to help with ground balls against Coletti. Expect to see that again this week.

Final Thoughts

This is a game that the Black Knights should win, but it’s not a game that they should necessarily win easily. I feel like we’ll be saying that a lot over the next few weeks. 

This week, specifically, Army faces a team that plays a lot like they do — with tough, physical defense and a lot of different scorers on offense. Army can match defensive sensation AJ Pilate up on Cole, but that still leaves the rest of Lehigh’s team. The Mountainhawks’ team offense came up big against Navy. On the other side, the Mountainhawks face much the same problem. McAuliffe might’ve blanked Arline, but Army’s *team* offense is an entirely different animal. The Black Knights get goals from everybody.

Army will have the advantage in the faceoff circle. Lehigh might have the better goalie. The game itself will likely come down to precision passing on offense and each team’s ability to successfully clear off of forced turnovers.

The good news is that this is a somewhat rare home game for the 2024 season, Army’s second in a row. As of this writing, the weather calls for partly cloudy skies with temperatures in the low- to mid-50s. That’s not too bad.

Faceoff goes at noon. ESPN+ will have coverage.

Go Army! Beat Lehigh!!!

* Note: Army is first in both the USILA and Inside Lacrosse polls. For simplicity, however, this article refers strictly to Inside Lacrosse rankings.

* Cover image via @ArmyWP_MLax.

The post #AsForLax: We’re Number 1! appeared first on As For Football.

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