(Photo Courtesy of Army West Point Athletics)
One of the most historic programs in sport, Army has been at the forefront of the game for quite sometime. The Black Knights own eight pre-NCAA titles, have made 17 NCAA Tournament trips, and advanced to the Final Four twice (1971,1984).
But before the 2019 season, Army had only made the NCAA Tournament once in the decade (2010). However, they were always knocking on the door. Army fell in the Patriot League title game in 2015, 2016, and 2017 and fell in the semifinals in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2018.
After nearly a decade of near misses, the Black Knights won the Patriot League and ended their nine-year NCAA Tournament drought in 2019. And in the minds of many, Army lacrosse is back where they need to be.
The Black Knights were heading down the path to success again in 2020, going 6-2 (2-0) before the season was cut short due to the Coronavirus outbreak. They were also ranked 14th in the nation at the time the season was cancelled and had been ranked as high as ninth in the Inside Lacrosse Media Poll.
Heading into the 2021 season, the Black Knights look to pick up right where they left off and continue trending upwards. However, they have graduated plenty of production, offensively, from last season which does provide some cloudiness on the banks of the Hudson coming into 2021.
Army is much more known for their staunch, aggressive defense than their offense, historically. But firepower on the offensive end has contributed heavily to their successes over the past few seasons. And that firepower starts and ends with junior attackman Brendan Nichtern, who has already been named a captain for the 2021 season.
The Massapequa, N.Y. native broke onto the scene as a freshman, racking up All-American and Conference honors while putting up 80 points (30G/50A), which is the best performance for a freshman in the history of West Point. He was on track to put up similar or greater numbers as a sophomore in 2020, tallying 46 points (19G/27A) in eight games for the Black Knights.
As Nicthern goes, so does the Army offense. However, things will look a little different around him in 2021, at least at attack, as they lose 42 points with the graduation of Miles Silva and Sean O’Brien. And when you add in the graduation of starting midfielders Connor DeWitt and Matt Manown, thats 61 points gone from last year’s starting offense.
The Black Knights will return their fourth and fifth leading scorers from last season in junior midfielder Bobby Abshire (7G/7A) and sophomore midfielder Jacob Morin (12G). Neither started a single game last season, but they should take on even bigger roles in 2021.
No matter how highly ranked or regarded the Black Knights’ offense is or has been over the past few seasons, defense will always be the crux of the identity of Army lacrosse.
While Tom Rigney is gone, they still return their most productive pols, statistically, from last season in Marcus Hudgins (15CT/35GB). Hudgins broke out in 2020 as a sophomore, being a first year starter, and contributing heavily to one of the top defensive units in the nation. With him back, as well as LSM Kyle Beyver (26GB/7CT) and multiple other contributors from last season, the Black Knights, who allowed just 7.25 goals per game in 2020, should continue to uphold that standard of staunch defense at Army and be a top-flight unit once again.
And while having high-quality and experienced poles back is huge for this squad, the biggest returning piece on defense, and maybe overall, for Army is in between the pipes. Wyatt Schupler was tasked with replacing two-year starter AJ Barretto, who earned All-American honors as a senior in 2019 and was one of the best goalies in the nation. But he took the task, ran into the fire, and had shined.
Schupler made 82 saves with a .617 save percentage through eight games in 2020 and ended the season ranked fourth in DI in save percentage. The Ponte Vedra, Fla. native was named to the Tewaaraton Award Watch List and was an Inside Lacrosse Third Team All-American.
Coming into 2021, all eyes will be on Schupler as many expect him to be able to come out strong and repeat his impressive performance from a season ago, anchor one of the best defenses in the nation, and help lead the Black Knights back to the NCAA Tournament. If he can pop off like he did last season, this squad has every chance in the world to go as far as they want.