Growing up in Roswell, Ga., Evan Plunkett had some choices to make about college. Did he want to play Division I football or lacrosse? Was it going to be at his dream school at Annapolis or would some other university swoop in and grab him from away from the Naval Academy?
The easy answer was that lacrosse was his first love and going to win out and, yes, West Point managed to win the heart of Plunkett.
Army men’s lacrosse fans are happy he made both choices. Plunkett, a 5-foot, 10-inch Black Knight freshman and Patriot League rookie of the year, has played a huge role in the team’s surprising performance this year. Going into Friday’s Patriot League postseason tournament’s semifinal with third-seeded Lehigh, Plunkett, a midfielder, has scored 17 goals and registered 20 assists to help Army post a 10-3 regular season record.
The bottom line was Army was not supposed to be very good this season. Having lost 18 seniors, including Brendan Nichtern, the two-time Patriot League offensive player of the year and a second team All-American pick by USA Lacrosse Magazine, the Black Knights were thought to be a middle-of-the-pack team in the Patriot League by lacrosse pundits.
But Plunkett, along with fellow freshmen Gunnar Fellows and John Sullivan, as well as a host of upper classmen, have spurred this Army team to the second seed in the Patriot League tournament being played this weekend at top-ranked Boston University and a No. 13 ranking in the national men’s lacrosse polls.
“Right from the beginning of the season, we played with a chip on our shoulder because they said we were not going to be very good,” Plunkett said. “Some people even said we were not going to be an over .500 team. Then, we started beating teams that they expected us to lose to.”
Plunkett’s journey to West Point started when he made it clear to college recruiters that lacrosse was going to take priority over football, even after a solid senior season at strong safety for Roswell High School football team. Then, even after interest from the Air Force Academy, Boston University and some Big 10 schools, it came down to Army and Navy.
“As I was growing up, the academies were talked about very highly at home and I always thought that they were someplace that I would want to go,” Plunkett said. “Navy was really my dream school. But after visiting both Navy and Army, I decided that I really liked Army much better. It was just the way the guys and the coaches made me feel about the team. It was a real family feel and they made me very comfortable about wanting to play here.”
Earning a starting spot on the team became priority No. 1 during fall practice. Plunkett said he connected on the field with Jake Morin, a junior attacker who is the Black Knight’s second leading goal scorer this year. “My thinking was just to do the best I can all the time in practice and connecting with Jake really helped me in the fall,” he said. “There were some open spots at the (midfield) position with so many people graduating after last year and I think I earned the trust of the coaches pretty quickly.”
Army head coach Joe Alberici is extremely happy Plunkett chose West Point and lacrosse.
“Evan’s impact in our program has been felt since we began in August,” Alberici said. “His combination of work ethic, elite athleticism and high lacrosse IQ has enabled him to be one of the most productive midfielders in the country. Evan is tough, competitive and willing to do whatever the team needs. He is a winner.”
How does Plunkett think the Black Knights will perform this weekend? 9“Our coaches are pretty clear that we cannot go 2-0 without going 1-0 first,” Plunkett said. “Lehigh is a very good team and there are no guarantees. We have to play our best game on Friday and win and then do it again on Sunday.”
And the future? Plunkett says that Hill Plunkett, his younger brother who plays attack, will attend the USMA Prep School in the fall. “When I am a junior, he will be a freshman on our lacrosse team,” he said. “That is going to be real cool to play with him.”