Bethlehem, Pa. – Going into Saturday’s game with Lehigh, Will Coletti, Army’s faceoff specialist extraordinaire, knew
he was going to have his hands full controlling the Mountain Hawks two-time all-American Mike Sisselberger, who is having another great season at the X.
Coletti, an Army sophomore who appears to be gaining more and more confidence with each passing game, rose to the occasion once again, limiting the hard-charging fifth-year grad student Sisselberger, who holds the NCAA record for highest percentage faceoff wins in a season at 79.5% in 2021, to less than a 60 percent win rate at the crucial faceoff and eight ground balls.
That, combined with excellent ball control in the middle of the field by the Black Knights and a well-rounded offensive attack with that eight players scoring, gave visiting Army a crucial 12-10 victory over Lehigh and its sixth straight win in a game. Army (6-1, 3-0 Patriot), ranked 15th in the country, won for the first time at Lehigh (5-2, 2-1 Patriot) since 2017.
“My coaches came up with a great game plan to try to neutralize Sisselberger as much as I could,” said Coletti, noting that his teammates played a big role in his success on Saturday. “That guy is one heck of a player and we all knew that we had to do some things, like clamping and counters on the faceoff, to slow him down. It worked enough to give us more opportunities. That was one tough game today.”
The victory was a great way to open the second half of what is becoming a very promising campaign for Army. Still, there is a tough road ahead for the Black Knights. In addition to hosting No. 11 Loyola (Md.) next Saturday, the Black Knights must get through difficult games with Boston University and Cornell,
both currently 5-1, as well as a trip to Navy, to position themselves well for the upcoming Patriot League playoffs and the guaranteed spot in the NCAA lacrosse championships that goes to the winner of that six-team tournament.
“Lehigh is always a tough game for us,” said Army coach Joe Alberici. “They are very good, year after year and we face them a lot, during the regular season and very often in the playoffs. We know each other’s styles very well. It is a great rivalry and a great win before we face Loyola next week. Still, we have to take one game at a time, so we have to start focusing on our next game right away.”
But, Alberici had to be pleased with what he saw against Lehigh. After trailing 6-4 at the half, thanks in large part to three extra-man scores by Lehigh, Army rattled off five straight goals to take a 9-6 lead and seven of the next eight scores to go ahead 11-7 with about 12 minutes left in the game.
Army outshot the Mountain Hawks, 36-26 in the game and collected 44 ground balls to just 27 for Lehigh. Plus, Army had seven extra-man opportunities to only five for Lehigh.
“I really think we played a good first half in terms of controlling the ground game,” Alberici added. “They scored on those three extra-man situations in the first half, but we really cut down on giving them extra-man opportunities in the second half and that helped a lot.”
Plus, the continued excellent play by more and more underclassmen is giving Army a larger and larger arsenal of players to choose from. Evan Plunkett continued his impressive plebe season with three more goals, giving him 14 scores this year. Fellow plebes Gunnar Fellows, Avi Mehl and Cal Lambert also scored for the Black Knights. Juniors Reese Burek and Jacob Morin tallied two goals each for Army.
“We had four different freshmen score goals for us in a short amount of time in the third quarter,” noted Plunkett, a midfielder who hails from Roswell, Ga. “I think we are getting to the point that the coaches trust us and see what we can do.
“I think my scoring opportunities come from the fact that many teams are putting a lot of pressure on our key offensive players, like Reese (Burek) and Jake (Morin), and that is opening up shot opportunities for me and some of these other guys. It is it hard for teams to defend all of us.”
As for the victory over Lehigh being a springboard to facing nationally-ranked Loyola, Plunkett was extremely diplomatic. “This was a great win against a very good team,” he said. “Next week’s game is just another game for us and another chance to get a win against another very good team.”