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Friday, June 21, 2024

#AsForLax: Win the League! – As For Football

Friends, your Army Black Knights beat Loyola, then BU beat Colgate, and then Lehigh beat Lafayette. With that, Army captured the number one seed and home field advantage heading into the Patriot League Tournament for the first time since 2010.

As noted above, tonight’s games will be on ESPN+ starting at 6:00 pm. Army will then play this Friday starting at 4:00 pm at Michie Stadium. That coverage will be on CBS Sports. The finals happen on Sunday at noon, and again, CBS Sports has coverage.

We Saw a Crazy Season Finish

That’s true both inside and outside the Patriot League. Among other things, unranked North Carolina beat #2 Duke, and previously #4 Virginia got up early on #1 Notre Dame, though the Irish came back to retain the nation’s best record. Still, if we’ve learned anything this season, it’s that anybody can beat anybody. There’s just too much parity in college lacrosse right now to take anything for granted. That’s a good thing, but it does kind of put the onus on automatic qualifying bids for league championships. For better or worse, the fight over at-large bids is liable to turn ugly once the conference championships are settled.

Though I loathe the Good Old Boy Network of blue-blooded lacrosse’s top brands, we’re probably still better off with parity and a fight over strengths-of-records than the alternative. I mean, at some point we probably will move into an era in which Tennessee or perhaps Texas spend $250 million on lacrosse facilities while facilitating seven-figure NIL deals and true free agency for the sport’s top players. That’ll be the end of the sport’s current culture but probably not the start of something better if the current chaos in college football serves as any guide.

Amateurism. Hmph.

I’ll give you this for the current season: we’ve seen the lacrosse equivalent of a team like Coastal Carolina in football taking down the equivalent of a team like LSU — multiple times. We all need to enjoy that kind of thing while it’s still possible.

Tournament Play is a Little Different

Navy has to play tonight, and if they win, they’ll have to play again on Friday. If they win Friday, they’ll have to play again on Sunday. By contrast, Army gets a full week off, and assuming they win on Friday, they’ll then only have two games back-to-back, not three. This becomes doubly meaningful when we consider the Black Knights’ true strength, their team depth.

Army has a lot of guys who can play at a high level, and we’ve seen them rotate those guys in and out of the lineup all year. Which perhaps explains at least part of why the Black Knights tend to pull ahead late in games. They have better fitness and more guys getting minutes, so that their midfielders can stay relatively fresh late in games. As we add more games to Tournament Week, that kind of thing becomes especially critical.

This is not to say that the team doesn’t have top guys. They definitely do. The Patriot League named AJ Pilate Defensive Player of the Year. They named Evan Plunkett Offensive Player of the Year. They named Will Coletti Faceoff Specialist of the Year. They even named Head Coach Joe Alberici Coach of the Year. Plus, Reese Burek and Jacob Morin both made the All-Patriot League First Team, and Jackson Eicher made the All-Patriot League Second Team. But even then, Coach Alberici noted: “I think each one of them would be the first to admit that their individual success was in part due to their teammates and team’s success.”

If Army is going to win the Patriot League and qualify for the NCAA Tournament, it’s going to be because of stars turning in star-making performances. More than that, though, it’s going to be because of teammates playing well when called upon. 

A handful of guys won’t get this done. It’ll take a total team effort.

Women’s Lax Falls to Lehigh

Army Women’s Lax has just as much top-line talent as the Men’s Team, but they never quite came together this season after starting 0-4. They fell this past weekend in double-overtime to Lehigh, ending their season.

In many ways, this year’s Women’s Team reminds us of the Men’s team in Brenden Nichtern’s firstie year. Army had every chance that year, but they somehow never quite put it together despite fielding one of the very best attackers in all of college lacrosse. Then Nichtern graduated, no one expected anything, and somehow the entire team came together to not only win the Patriot League but to then get all the way to the NCAA Quarterfinals… and they damn-near won that, too!

Head Coach Michelle Tumolo will figure this out. She’s too good of a coach, and she’s recruited too much talent to make anything else likely. Indeed, the team might’ve started on a losing streak, but they finished by winning seven of their last eight games. They’re already right there.

The answer, though, probably isn’t that they need to develop more stars. In true Army fashion, the answer almost certainly lies more along the lines of getting the most out of more of the roster.

Baseball Beats Navy

If you missed this one, I don’t know what to tell you. Army Baseball beat Navy two games to one this past weekend in dramatic fashion. Both of the first two games turned into pitchers’ duels with Army *just* scratching out a run to win the first game before falling 2-0 in the second. Lots more runs got scored in the third game, and though Army fell behind heading into the 9th, they still somehow managed to walk it off.

Incredible!

What we learned this weekend is that the Mids might have a very slight advantage at the top of their starting pitchers’ rotation, but Army hits a little better and with more power. That proved decisive in a three-game set at Doubleday Field this week, and hopefully it will again when the Patriot League Tournament comes to West Point in a couple of weeks.

Friends, there is a lot to like in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

Cover image via Army West Point Lacrosse on Facebook.

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