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Burek, Army lax roll past Lafayette for first 5-0 start since 1993

Photo by Mark Wellman

Reese Burek and his Army teammates were well aware that Sunday’s game at Lafayette could have been a trap game.

Played on just three days rest after the No. 5 Black Knights’ emotional overtime victory at Syracuse and facing young and improving Lafayette, Burek felt that his team would have to play its best to come out on top.

The fact is Army did not perform at its best. For much of the first three quarters of the contest, played before a sun-baked crowd at Fisher Stadium in Easton, Pa., Army played sloppy lacrosse, committing a number of unforced turnovers, several unnecessary penalties. And, for the first time this season, the Black Knights were not in complete control of the faceoff X, especially in the third quarter.

Somehow, though, as great teams are prone to do, the Black Knights managed to pull out the victory against the feisty Leopards, holding on for a 16-11 win in both teams’ opening Patriot League game.

Army is now 5-0 on the season, the first time the Black Knights have achieved that record since 1993. And, with three teams ranked higher in the polls losing this week, Army might be ranked as high as first or second in the national rankings when they come out Monday morning.

“It was definitely a tough win on a short week, coming off Syracuse on Wednesday,” said Burek, a 6-foot-1 senior from Fairport, N.Y., who scored four goals and added an assist against Lafayette. “We knew they were a good opponent but it came down to our toughness and (play) in between the line. (Goalie) Matt Chess was great in the cage, the defense was great and our offense was clicking on all cylinders. It was a tough one, a lot to learn from and a lot to build off of.”

Despite, or maybe because of, all the accolades this team is getting, Army is faced with a tough challenge every game. There is no doubt that the Black Knights have a target on their backs, with the other eight Patriot League squads hoping to be the one to take them down.

“Every league game is going to be a battle,” added Burek, a three-year starter who began his Army career as a midfielder before moving to attack. “We just have to take what we learned here with our toughness and finishing for 60 minutes and let it lead us down the road. We have a great defense, but it goes back to our scout team and what they do and getting the defense ready.”

With seven different players scoring, including all-American defenseman AJ Pilate and two goals from Burek, Army jumped out to an 8-4 lead early in the second quarter. But Lafayette played tough and cut that lead to 8-7 late in the half before Burek’s third goal and follow-up score by sophomore Gunnar Fellows gave the Black Knights a 10-7 lead heading into the half.

Winning seven faceoffs in a row, Lafayette kept in close in the third quarter and again cut the advantage to just one, 11-10, halfway through the third quarter. But, Army’s defensive stiffened and Chess was a wall in the cage, holding the Leopards to just one score in the final quarter. Chess finished with 10 saves, while Lafayette goalie Joe Doherty had 15 saves.

Junior Jackson Eicher had three goals and dished out three assists in the game, while sophomore Evan Plunkett also scored three times for the Black Knights.

Army coach Joe Alberici pointed to Burek as a sparkplug for Army on Sunday and a steady influence on the team for his entire career.

“Guys were making plays,” noted Alberici. “Particularly Reese, at the end of the half, had a couple of highlight-reel plays that extended the lead to three. We never let them take the lead. In the second half, we were not getting as many of the possessions and still found a way to score and keep them off the board.”

Burek became the “quarterback” on the team last year, Alberici said, establishing himself behind the goal where he can direct the offense.

“He is a terrific player and terrific leader for us and we are going to need his leadership as we move forward.” he said. “His game has just continued to evolve. Last year, he became our guy behind the goal. He brings a creativity to the game maybe unlike anyone else I coached at West Point. He has great hands and creativity, he makes some plays and breakdowns and turns them into great offense.”

And, the win gets Army started in the right direction in regards to league games.

“It was a well-earned victory and I am so proud of our guys,” Alberici added. “I told them in the locker room that has not been a moment this season that I have been more proud of them then what they did here. On short rest, we emptied the tank on Wednesday night, and had to fight a way to claw back. It was not our prettiest game by any stretch.

“Lafayette, I think, has its best team ever and we knew it was going to be a real dog fight. Again, I am proud our guys emptied the tank and spent four quarters to get a victory. Now we are going to rest up and get on to the next one (Saturday at noon versus Holy Cross at Michie Stadium).”

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