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Be All That You Can Be – Army Lacrosse 2024

20 years ago Navy sailed their way onto the big stage, losing the 2004 National Championship game to Syracuse by one play, on a rainy Memorial Day Monday in Charm City.

The service academies are a vital part of D1 lacrosse. Their success and combined tradition is a foundational element of the sport. Don’t forget, Navy holds 17 pre-NCAA era national titles and Army has won eight titles, the latest in 1969.

In 2024, Army has the type of team in that should be dreaming big. They return the vast majority of a roster that beat Maryland 16-15 in College Park and came within one goal of championship weekend. The Black Knights season ended in the NCAA Quarterfinals, running out of time during a comeback bid against Penn State 10-9.

Success starts at the top. Joe Alberici enters his 18th season at West Point coming off the rousing 2023 run. His feel for the program and student-athlete soldiers, is without equal.

Army finished with RPI #14. They averaged nearly 13 goals per game while surrendering 9. They shot 30% while foes hit at a 26% clip. Black Knights were +8.6 ground balls per game behind FOGO Will Coletti (62%). Opponents cleared at just an 82% rate. Army was top ten in defensive efficiency. Their four losses were by a combined 5 goals.

Their non-conference schedule is once again, not likely to garner an at-large bid. It’s probable that they’ll need to win the Patriot League tourney for the AQ.

Contradictory to the 2023 pre-season that saw Army lose 19 seniors and star Brendan Nichtern, expectations will be heaped on Amy lacrosse in 2024. Only 6 of 330 points (1.8%) have departed. This squad should be fairly ranked #6-#10 in the pre-season, not #4 in the Patriot League like the prior winter.

Numerous national pundits will rave about the team from West Point. Higher expectations are fitting for this group that adheres to the belief that work ethic is a talent.

“Our approach began at the year-end meeting as I talked a lot about humility,” said Alberici. “You have to be humble, to learn.”

Defender Deacon Donaldson graduated leaving AJ Pilate and John Sullivan as the returning starters on close defense. Pilate (Massapequa) is a top cover, a stout lefty who can throw checks. He’s and engineering major who likes to build stuff. Ned Lynch and Keagan Tracy will get playing time down low in 2024.

Under Alberici, Army has always been solid on defense. That, and rock-solid intangibles are their DNA.

“At West Point our players experience shared hardships, which makes it easier to unite, with a love for each other and for our traditions,” said Alberici.

Shorty Christian Mazur is a superb athlete, Dean’s List smart and a steady and physical defender whose work jumped off the screen in 2023 as if Army was employing five poles. The junior from Media, PA is elite covering the ball.

FOGO Will Colletti (62%) is now a junior. He’s a big UFC fan who treats his craft like its fight preparation. With Lehigh’s Mike Sisselberger in the PLL, Coletti should be the premiere draw man in the Patriot League with uncanny balance and quickness at the whistle.

On offense, all of the players will be familiar. Evan Plunkett (Roswell, Georgia), Jacob Morin, Reese Burek, Gunnar Fellows (23,6) and Paul Johnson (Bellevue, Washington) have to be considered the headliners.

Plunkett (21,25) experienced historical production for a freshman midfielder at West Point. Dynamic, fast and with an athletic IQ, Plunkett is the party starter from the midfield.

“Evan has been working hard on becoming a more reliable shooter and he’s worked on his quick dodge. He’s also now become a force in the defensive end, a true two-way player.”

Johnson (28,14) scored on three ISO’s against Cornell. Fellows, a Colorado native, had the hat trick against Maryland playing off-ball. Clark has range when opponents play zone defense. And Burek, a brainy law and legal student, scored more than 60 points.

“Reese Burek made a big leap this fall with his play and leadership,” said Alberici.

Morin (Auburn, NY) may have the fastest shot in college lacrosse. The former high school hockey player has a smooth left-handed cannon and beat goalies 36 times last year. He’s a super sonic weapon on the extra-man and with time and space from the wing in the mold of Mac OKeefe, Mike Springer or AJ Shannon.

Offensive players Bailey O’Connor (16,6), Mike Tangredi, Ryan Sposito (grandson of former Cornell coach Richie Moran), Cal Lambert, John Manero, Avi Mehl, Finn McCullough and Dawson Clark gathered post-season experience and give Alberici reliable depth.

“Just because you’re a year older doesn’t make you a year better,” said coach. “The hungry team wins.”

Because of injuries in 2023, a platoon of freshman and sophomores got playing time. Army kept improving, even following wins, which is rare. The ability to develop and improve was the strength of the squad.

Fort Knox is closed. Netminder Knox Dent has been commissioned. Army will have a goalie battle in January training camp. Matt Chess (Lancaster, PA) started two games against Bucknell and Colgate when Dent hurt his knee in 2023. Sophomore Sean Byrne from Georgia is in the mix, in front of a defense that locks down on individual matchups and is typically slow to slide. Evan Richardson (sophomore 6-4 220) has also inserted his name into the race.

West Point student athletes have the desire to be special. They are trying to accomplish something that has to be considered a steeper slope. Between the classroom, military and lacrosse – the demands are 24/7.

“January 8 is our start date for practice. We will go on a retreat for team building during a January weekend and scrimmage Penn State and Saint Joe’s at the end of the month,” explained Alberici.

Army opens with UMass in Atlanta, GA. The Black Knights will play in the dome at Syracuse on Wednesday February 28. They travel to Chapel Hill on March 30 to play North Carolina. Cornell is not on the schedule in 2024. The Patriot League slate remains unchanged by re-alignment.

“Keep the Change” was their mantra in 2023, a season where the experts didn’t buy into Army being a viable Patriot league champion and NCAA tournament caliber team.

This year’s mountain is complacency. Never become satisfied with what you’ve done. Every season is different. Every journey is unique.

No doubt, it’s an exciting time to be an Army lacrosse fan. Let’s see if the Black Knights can stay true to their mantra of “Family, Toughness & Tradition”.

Will they continue to ascend and elevate the program toward Championship weekend?

It’s not about where a team has been. It is about where they’re going.