Army is back in the NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse tournament for the first time in four years as the Black Knights took control of their postseason fate.
A strong defensive effort, a great performance by goalie Knox Dent and the outstanding play of faceoff specialist Will Coletti punched Army’s postseason ticket.
In fact, the Black Knights offense never really got fully going in its battle with Loyola (Md.) in the Patriot League championship at Sunday at Boston University’s sun-splashed Nickerson Field. But, the Black Knights’ defense , which has simply been on top of its game all season posting the second lowest goals against in Division I, stepped up once again.
The result was a 10-8 victory for Army and their first Patriot League championship – and third in total – since 2019. With the Patriot League’s automatic spot into the national championship tournament now in hand, the Black Knights await the NCAA lacrosse committee’s decision Sunday night on where to place Army in the 18-team tournament and who they will be playing next weekend.
Army, now 12-3, was picked to finish fourth in the Patriot League preseason poll, getting no first place votes, after losing 18 seniors to graduation, including Brendan Nichtern, a two-time league player of the year.
“We made it a little more exciting that we wanted to at the end,” said Army coach Joe Alberici. “But it is a great victory and I am just ecstatic for the guys on this team. At the beginning of the season, nobody had us in the top 25. The guys took that very personally and played with a chip on their shoulders all season. They worked very hard to get here and to be Patriot League champions.”
Coletti, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player, was the key to the Army victory. The sophomore from Monrovia, Md., won an amazing 18 of 22 faceoffs and collected six ground balls in the contest.
“Will has been outstanding all season and he was again today,” Alberici added. “He is a tough, tough individual and is most definitely deserving of the most valuable player award for this tournament. He was excellent on Friday again Lehigh and today tilted the field our way all game long. He was a big difference maker for us today.”
Coletti was so dominant throughout the game that it was clear that the Loyola coaches knew they would have to take advantage of every offensive possession if they were going to win.
They didn’t. And, that was due to an Army’s defense that simply did not allow the Greyhounds many quality shots on Dent and, when they did, the Army senior from Denver, Colo. stopped 14 of them. Dent, who was a backup until the start of this season, was named the Patriot League goalie of the year this season.
But ,other defensive players shined Sunday. Sophomore AJ Pilate, the Patriot League’s defensive player of the year, was also on top of his game again. And, his colleagues on defense, including freshman John Sullivan, sophomore Christian Fournier and senior Deacon Donaldson, were also causing havoc in the defensive zone.
“Our short stick DMs (defensive midfielders), Joey Stillings, Christian Mazer, Eamon Murphy and Keagan Tracey, did a great job shutting Loyola down as well,” Alberici said. “Those four guys were up to the task time and time again.”
Together, the Army defense held Loyola’s big three scorers of Adam Poitras, Evan James and Matthew Minicus, who together scored 98 goals this year, to just four scores in the championship game.
Army ran out to a 3-0 lead in the first quarter, only to have Loyola tie the game at 3-3 early in the second quarter. The Black Knights scored the next three tallies to take a 6-3 lead into halftime. That lead grew to 9-4 in the fourth quarter before Loyola managed to cause a number of turnovers and drew to within 9-6. Ryan Sposito’s second goal of the game put Army up 10-7.
“I have no idea who we will be playing next week,” added Alberici. “I am just happy to have the opportunity to keep playing and keep the guys together a little bit longer. This is just a great group of players.