Feb. 9, 2012
WEST POINT, N.Y. - It's a different year and Army will be a different team in 2012. The Black Knights suffered huge blows to graduation last May, but return a plethora of talented, eager players clamoring to fill those voids and continue a storied tradition of winning at West Point.
Army lifts the lid on the 2012 season on Friday, Feb. 10, when the team hosts preseason nationally ranked Massachusetts in the earliest season opener the program's 95-year history. The Black Knights received votes in both national preseason polls.
In addition to a vital group of role players, the Black Knights bid farewell to attackman Jeremy Boltus, defenseman Bill Henderson and goalkeeper Tom Palesky after the trio were commissioned as second lieutenants following graduation. All three were All-Americans and won the highest Patriot League honor at their respective position in 2011.
"We have a good understanding of what we've lost in this program; that's no secret," said head coach Joe Alberici, who enters his seventh season this spring. "I won't turn a blind eye to that. We've lost some All-Americans, but we also lost a lot of really quality guys that contributed a great deal to Army lacrosse in their four years here. There were some huge losses from 2011's team, but in the same regard, I'm optimistic about the 2012 team.
"We have a great combination of experienced players who will be playing larger roles than in the past and newcomers," he continued. "I'm confident those experienced players can step up to the job and the influx of a great freshmen class will add a lot to this team."
Leadership has been the backbone of Army's program since the beginning of time. This season, senior tri-captains Tim Henderson, Devin Lynch and Brian LoRusso will be engineering that effort.
"The senior leadership has been outstanding," Alberici noted. "More than anything, that gives me cause for great optimism with this team."
While aside from preseason All-America selections Henderson and junior attackman Garrett Thul, the Black Knights may not have those well-known, marquee players as they did a year ago, Alberici said the name of the game will be diversity.
"Diversified - that's the best way to put it," Alberici said. "Not that we weren't last year, but we played more to our strengths. I think we may be able to put more quality players on the field. Maybe there's not a first team All-American like Jeremy (Boltus), but we might be able to get a greater number of quality players on the field."
Army will rely heavily on the services of Thul at attack for the third year in a row. One question that remains is who is going to feed the power lefty the ball. Alberici said the preseason third team All-America selection continues to expand his game every day.
"Garrett possesses great size and uncanny strength," Alberici said. "He's always adding a piece to his game with the goal of becoming a more well-rounded attackman. He has continued to work on his feeding game, along with dodging right handed. We're counting on him to have a monster junior year."
With the graduation of Boltus, listed second on Army's all-time assists list, the contributions of the Black Knights remaining attackmen to step up will be critical for the team's success in 2012. Chief among those candidates is senior Conor Hayes, who finished fourth on the team in scoring (14 points, 12 goals, two assists) last spring. Injuries hampered Hayes throughout a good portion of his career, but he will be counted on mightily in his final season on the banks of the Hudson.
Senior John Adair, sporting plenty of experience on Army's man-up unit, and junior James MacGibbon boast the most field time of the returning attackmen aside from Thul. MacGibbon did not play last spring as he recovered from knee surgery. Although not completely new to the position, making the move from midfield to attack this season is junior Andy Boyd. The St. Louis, Mo., native played in all 15 games a year ago and finished with eight goals.
As in the past, a huge key to Army's success will be placed upon the midfield. The Black Knights welcome a strong, athletic crop of midfielders back, including tri-captain and three-year starter Devin Lynch, juniors Pat Brennan and Alex Van Krevel, along with sophomore Tyler Kamide. Army's midfield will also undoubtedly benefit from the contributions of highly touted recruit John Glesener. The rookie out of Camillus, N.Y., who attended USMAPS for the 2010-11 season, was named the top post-graduate recruit by Inside Lacrosse last August.
"John has an opportunity to be one of the great all-time players in Army lacrosse history," Alberici said. "He is a relentless worker and possesses all of the physical skills - speed, size and shooting ability - that you look for. We're going to count on him making a seamless transition to the college game."
Lynch has started every game over the last two years and was the Black Knights' third leading scorer (22 points, 14 goals, eight assists) a year ago. His three game-winning goals last season tied for the most in the Patriot League, fitting for the player responsible for Army's game-winning score in a monumental 9-8 (2OT) upset of Syracuse two years ago in the NCAA Tournament.
Brennan and Van Krevel appeared in 15 and 12 games, respectively, last season. Brennan started 10 games and totaled 11 points on five goals and six assists. Van Krevel added four goals, including his first career hat trick in a 12-6 win at VMI early in the season.
After a promising start to the year, Kamide spent much of the latter portion of the season hampered with an injury. The central New York native has since returned to form and will be counted on to pick up where he left off early in 2011. Kamide played in nine games and scored three of his four goals in the Black Knights' first four games.
Transition played a significant role in Army's success last year with a majority of those key players returning. Seniors Derek Sipperly, Matt Hurley and tri-captains Brian LoRusso and Tim Henderson will be the names involved in driving the transition game.
Sipperly is expected to resume his role as the Black Knights' primary faceoff specialist. He took 278 of Army's 327 faceoffs as a junior, while also contributing his first career points. Sipperly posted a pair of goals and five assists, and finished third on the team with 44 ground balls. Hurley and Henderson finished the season with a combined 12 points out of the Black Knights' defensive midfield, adding a dynamic element to Army's point production in 2011.
LoRusso drew his only action last season in the Black Knights' final game, taking a pair of faceoffs against nationally ranked Johns Hopkins at Michie Stadium. LoRusso spent much of the year rehabilitating an injury, but is expected to be at full-strength for his final season at West Point.
Junior Matt Mezer and sophomore Nick Isnardi both took faceoffs last season and will once again be strong understudies for Sipperly in the faceoff "x."
LONG STICK MIDFIELD
Already the recipient of several preseason accolades, including All-America and Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year honors, expectations for Henderson are extremely high. A physically imposing long pole drafted by the Rochester Rattlers as the 35th overall pick, follows in his older brother, Bill (West Point '11), in serving as a team captain.
"Timmy has outstanding offensive skills for a defensive midfielder," Alberici noted. "He has worked hard on his ground ball play, coming off the wings on faceoffs, and has improved his team defense. Much of our success will be dependent on his ability to own the defensive end of the field."
One of the most experienced players on the team, senior Tom Dalton is a more than capable player with strong ground ball skills. A Hudson Valley product, Dalton played in all but one game last season and finished with 13 ground balls.
Sophomore Kevin Epp and rookie Sean Jollota round out Army's long stick middies and will work for playing time as the season progresses.
Fresh off his finest season in the Black, Gold and Gray, senior Larry LoRusso returns as the anchor of the staunch defense that has served as the cornerstone of Army lacrosse in recent memory. A second team All-Patriot League defenseman in 2011, LoRusso started all 15 games, came up with his second career assist and totaled 18 ground balls and 11 caused turnovers.
Juniors Brendan Buckley and Drew Kearns, along with sophomore Pat Hart, all have the experience and the capability to complement LoRusso on Army's close defense. Buckley started 11 games last season and came up with 15 ground balls. Although not regular starters, Kearns and Hart saw plenty of field time and will be shouldered with more significant roles this season.
One of the most profound question marks heading into the 2012 slate surrounds Army's goalkeeper situation. The Black Knights have relied on the services of All-American goalies Adam Fullerton '08 and Tom Palesky'11 for the last seven years and will be putting a fresh face between the pipes for the first time in Alberici's tenure this season.
The leading candidate to fill the starting role from the outset will be senior Zach Palmieri. The Syracuse, N.Y., native has played in nine career games with the longest span in goal being 12 minutes as a junior.
"Zach had a great fall for us and I'm expecting him to step up as our starter," Alberici said. "He is an excellent communicator and has been working hard on the outlet game. We need him to be effective in getting our transition going. He's learned and played behind some great goalies, and I'm excited for him to get his chance."
Junior Evan Danahy and sophomore Bobby Sincero each played in a game last season, while rookie Sam Somers rounds out Army's group of goalies. According to Alberici, Somers put forth a productive effort when given the chance during preseason and is capable of contributing when called upon.
Seven home games, six contests against opponents that were ranked in the top 20 of last spring's final national polls and service-academy showdowns against Air Force in Texas and Navy at Michie Stadium highlight the 2012 Army lacrosse schedule.
The Black Knights lift the lid on 2012 with three home games, beginning with Massachusetts on Feb. 10 - the earliest date Army has played on in its rich 95-year history. The team hosts Wagner (Feb. 15) and VMI (Feb. 18) over the next week before facing two of the nation's premier teams on the road at Syracuse (Feb. 26) and Cornell (March 3).
"As in previous years, we put together a tremendous strength of schedule out of conference to go along with great Patriot League competition," Alberici said. "If we're successful, it's a schedule that is set up to help us reach our goals. It's extremely competitive, and I know the team is looking forward to the challenges ahead."
The Black Knights will play seven non-conference contests prior to opening the 2012 Patriot League season on March 17 at Lehigh. The team's final tune-up for that contest will be a March 10 meeting with service-academy rival Air Force in Houston, Texas, at The Kinkaid School.
Army hosts Colgate, Navy and Holy Cross during its regular-season conference run. The Black Knights will go for a fourth straight win over rival Navy on Saturday, April 14. The game will be televised live on CBS Sports Network. In addition to Lehigh, Army visits Lafayette and Bucknell during the regular season. The 2012 Patriot League Tournament, which will air in its entirety on CBSSN, is set to take place on April 27 and 29 at the site of the highest seed.
"The Patriot League is probably as tight as I've seen it in my seven years here," Alberici said. "There are a lot of experienced teams coming back and others with new leadership. It's going to be an interesting and exciting spring. Again, our goal of winning the Patriot League title and advancing to the NCAA Tournament has not wavered."