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Jackson Eicher, Army continue strong start, defeat No. 11 Rutgers

Coming back from a pre-season ACL/meniscus injury that wiped out all of his 2023 campaign, Army’s Jackson Eicher was a bit worried that his return into the rotation would somehow upset the mojo of the Black Knights’ much-respected offensive juggernaut. 


To the contrary, just two games into the season it is already clear that Eicher, a junior attacker from Warrenton, Va., is adding another lethal weapon to coach Joe Alberici’s already-loaded lacrosse team’s arsenal, which returns all but six goals from last year’s impressive 13-4 campaign. 

On Saturday, Eicher scored three goals to help No. 6 Army dominate No. 11 Rutgers, 16-7, in a non-league college men’s lacrosse game played at frigid SHI Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. The victory, the Black Knights’ second in a row against Rutgers, moved Army to 2-0 on the season. Rutgers is 2-1. 

“It is really a special team this year,” Eicher said. “I saw the success we had last year, with a bunch of guys coming together and stepping up in the big moments. I did not want to take away from what the team accomplished last year. I see myself as just filing a role this year, whatever it will be week to week, and watch guys like Evan Plunkett, Reese Burek and Jacob Morin shine on Saturdays. I will do what I can do every week to make those guys better.”

He may be a bit modest. Alberici and everyone associated with the Army lacrosse program expects big things from a healthy Eicher this year and are hoping that the big 6-foot, 4-inch attacker can help take the Black Knights deeper into the post-season NCAA tournament this year.  

“Jackson was off to a great start last year in preseason,” said Alberici. “He was performing at the highest level and was the best offensive player at that point and to go down with the ACL, loses his season. It is good to see his confidence grow in each and every game. I just cannot be happier for him and the persistence he has shown.” 

While Alberici and his players naturally played down the significance of beating one of the better teams from the Big 10 conference, not to mention the entire nation, there is little doubt that many in the lacrosse world will notice the score and the lopsided victory. Whether they want to flout it or not, this win – and the margin of victory – on the road, nonetheless, shows that the Black Knights, who always play a tough non-league slate, are truly the real deal in the early stages of the season. 

After giving up two quick goals to the Scarlet Knights, Army dominated the contest until the final whistle on both sides of the field. Offensively, Army controlled the pace of the battle, with sharp passing, steady movements and pinpoint shots. Besides Eicher, Plunkett, a sophomore, scored four goals, and Morin and sophomore Gunnar Fellows adding three each. 

Other offensive players contributed as well, including Burek, with two goals, and players like Ryan Sposito, Bailey O’Connor and Ryan Sellew setting up plays and keeping the ball deep in Scarlet Knight territory all afternoon. Will Coletti won 17 of 25 faceoffs including his program-record 473rd draw.

The Black Knights may have been better defensively. With reigning Patriot League defensive player of the year AJ Pilate and sophomore John Sullivan leading the way, the Black Knights limited Rutgers to 29 shots- many of them not great looks – and Pilate held the Scarlet Knights’ Ross Scott to no goals and just two assists. Senior goalie Matt Chess had eight saves. 

“The coach’s message before the game was to display excellence on the field and I think we did that in every aspect of the game,” added Eicher. “Will was great at the faceoff X, Chess was amazing in the cage and the defense played great holding them under eight goals. The offense had the ball moving and everyone was scoring.”

Pilate is definitely another player that future competitors must keep an eye on. The junior from Massapequa, N.Y. has already established himself as one of the country’s best defenders and Saturday’s performance did nothing to hurt that image. 

“We pride ourselves as being a team using our group against other team’s individuals,” said Pilate, who attended the same high school as Army great Brendan Nichtern and gave that as a big reason why he chose West Point. “Rutgers has a lot of talent, but we were able to use our team and our team defense against their individuals and that is what gives us that extra edge. 

“We are a hard-nosed group with a lot of guys returning from last year. We really believe in our athleticism and our ability to play one-on-one defense.”

As always, Alberici is taking it one game at a time. The Black Knights host Mercer next Saturday before a crucial visit to No. 4 Syracuse on Feb. 28. 

“Rutgers is a great team and off to a great start,” said Alberici. “What we really talked about as a team was not to make it about them. It must be about us and displaying excellence in all the little things. I think you saw that today. Time and again in small plays, in enthusiasm, the unselfishness and in fundamentals, we just displayed excellence. The score took care of itself.

“The defense was terrific. Matt Chess came up with some big saves and bailed us out in the first quarter. AJ covered one of the best attackman in the country and did a great job and Johnny Sullivan, who we asked to play out of position, did an impressive job on their leading scorer. Will Coletti was dominant in the middle of the field. It was a great effort.”

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